Summer Graduations - Thursday 5 July

Summer Graduations - Thursday 5 July

The University would like to congratulate all of its students on their graduation day.

For our graduands today is a celebration of the culmination years of study and hard work. We are united with them and their family and friends in a shared sense of pride in all of their achievements. Here are a few examples of this year's outstanding student success stories and our honorary graduates.

To watch ceremonies live, download videos of previous ceremonies, and view picture galleries, visit our Graduation website.

Honorary Graduate - Colin W McKerracher CBE QPM LLB

Chief Constable of Grampian Police

Born and raised in Glasgow, Chief Constable Colin McKerracher, began his policing career in 1972 as a Cadet with the City of Glasgow Police.

On the commencement of Strathclyde Police in 1975 he served in uniform and CID duties before being promoted to Sergeant. From 1984-87, he attended Strathclyde University as a sponsored student where he studied and obtained his LLB. In 1999 Mr McKerracher was appointed Assistant Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police and then Deputy Chief Constable in 2001.

In 2004 he was appointed Chief Constable of Grampian Police with his vision to develop Grampian into a 21st century Police Force operating on business principles. He introduced a long term strategy for the Force entitled, "Platform for Success", which was first published in 2005 and has been reviewed and refocused every year.

Since joining Grampian Police, Mr McKerracher has been instrumental in achieving a more community based policing approach across the Force. On a national level, he has been an active and key member of ACPOS since 1999, holding the Presidency from 2007-09. During his time as President he provided leadership and support in the crucial strategic development areas of Common Police Services the National Business Change Programme Board and the restructuring of ACPOS itself, all to the benefit of the Scottish Police Service.

In 2004 he was awarded a QPM and in 2009 a CBE for services to the Police. He is a member of the Scottish Police Services Authority and is a key strategic player in national Child Protection development.

Francis Armstrong

Francis Thomas Armstrong, at the age of 86, proves today that you are never too old to learn something new.

Francis, known as Frank, graduates with an MA in Scottish Cultural Studies after years of hard work. The one time owner of a retail hardware and garden business in Cults had never attended university but working with the Voluntary Guiding for National Trust for Scotland kindled an interest in Scottish history and culture. Frank said "The Centre for Lifelong Studies at The University of Aberdeen offered the opportunity for part time study of subjects which I found interesting and enjoyable - so much so that following a few years interlude I continued my studies until my graduation this year."

Frank's academic speciality is the House of Muchal, which we now know as Castle Fraser, and the Frasers who held the lands for 500 years. He said "I have written several research dissertations on Castle Fraser and it is gratifying to produce an end product - some of my work has earned journal publication." Until recently, it has been thought that Castle Fraser remained unscathed during the 17th century but Frank's research showed that in fact the Castle was raided sometime before the October of 1655.

Frank said "I am very grateful to have had access to such in-depth archives in the University's Library. It was such a privilege and a pleasure to work there and to uncover historical secrets."Frank will spend the day with his family, including his 11 year old grandson who has flown over from Singapore for the occasion.

Lorna Summers

Four decades after she first graduated in Aberdeen, former Portsoy Primary School Head Teacher, Lorna Summers returned to the classroom - this time to complete a Master of Letters degree.

Lorna, 64, from Macduff, has earned an MLitt with Distinction in Ethnology and Folklore, which she completed at the University's Elphinstone Institute. Lorna, who taught in various schools across the north-east, including 10 years at head teacher at Portsoy, is enthusiastic about folk music of all kinds and she was inspired to return to study after attending the Elphinstone's popular festival of traditional singing, held each year at Cullerlie in Deeside.

She said: "After retiring, my husband Derek and I set off to see the places we had always dreamed of. We were away for about six months, and had a wonderful time visiting Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, Cambodia and Thailand. On return, however, I was ready for a new challenge. "We are regulars at Cullerlie and while there, I got talking to a couple of people from the University, who told me about the course in Ethnology and Folklore at the Elphinstone Institute. Since I'm very interested in the language, music, and traditions of our corner of Scotland, this was exactly the kind of thing I wanted to do. When I began the M.Litt course, I wasn't sure how I'd get on - it had been a long time since I last sat an exam! I needn't have worried - everybody at the Elphinstone was very supportive and I've enjoyed every minute. It has been a fantastic experience."

With close connections to Portsoy, for her dissertation, Lorna chose to undertake a study of traditional salmon fishing, focussing on the identity of the fishers of that town and their place within the community. She said: "It was absolutely fascinating and I'm indebted to the former salmon fishers who kindly gave their time to talk to me. What they had to say, convinced me that this was a unique and courageous group of men, who held specialist knowledge and an unparalleled range of skills. Sadly, very few salmon fishing stations remain, so I am privileged to have heard first hand, from those who were engaged in this once vibrant industry."

Lorna is closely involved with Portsoy's Scottish Traditional Boat Festival, and with the recently renovated Salmon Bothy, so her choice of dissertation was very appropriate. She still enjoys working with local children, and is currently engaged in a successful project to show youngsters how to build and sail Optimist dinghies. Encouraging children's interest in traditional music, however, remains one of her main passions.

Lorna's husband Derek, and younger daughter Morven, will be there to watch her receive her degree. She is now considering returning to the University to undertake a PhD.

Jenny Johnston

Jenny Johnston (26) a deaf student from Netherley, who struggled with her hearing aids during her studies, graduates today with an MLitt with distinction in Comparative Literature.

However during her studies her analogue hearing aids broke and she had to adjust to digital ones which resulted in her having to take time out last year. This allowed her to develop an interest in communication without speech. This interest led her to set up her own theatre group called Absurd Works. Absurd Works focuses on the non verbal aspects of theatre- stripping out speech and dialogue.

Jenny said "We are interested in exploring visual aspects of theatre in an experimental workshop environment. Visual areas we would like to explore vary from: different forms of movement, physical theatre, mime, photography, working with projectors, puppets, circus, clowning, bouffant clowning, comedy, masks or anything visual. In the future I would like to combine together my interests in the absurd, sound and the visual."

Jenny has celebrated her degree with a holiday in Cromarty before a meal with her family on the day.

To find out more about Absurd Works visit

Nicci Thompson

It's off to Hollywood for local film director after he graduates today with an MA in Film and Visual Culture.

Nicci Thompson, from Aberdeen, is the director of Dondee Productions and is set to take up a place at the world's top film school in L.A. in September. He will attend the New York Film Academy in Universal Studios for a two year Masters followed by a two year work placement.

Nicci always knew he wanted to be a film director and started on film projects from the age of 11. "I wanted to be able to connect with an audience. The subject of the film therefore has to relate to the audience and to be worth watching."

His most recent film, "Getting Out", was a fictional film that showed the problems that young offenders face whilst being released from prison. The film was shot in Aberdeen's HM Prison and will be submitted to various international film festivals this year. His latest feature film is on the dangers of drug addiction. He hopes to show the different perspectives on drug abuse. Nicci met with addicts and their families and shows the interviews in the film. He said "People generally associate drug addiction with those who come from a deprived upbringing. I want show that drug abuse affects everyone - even those who have had a perfect life."

He will spend the day with his parents and his fiancé.

Ross Grant

Academic and practical knowledge come together as local councillor graduates from Aberdeen with a politics degree.

Ross Grant(24) graduates today, Thursday July 5, with an M.A. in Politics. Ross juggled his final year of studies with his campaign to be councillor for Tillydrone and Seaton which he won in 2012. He served as Chairman of the Don Community Alliance and the Tillydrone Community Council which he continues to sit on as a councillor. On top of all this, he continues his commitments to Tillydrone Vision which works with young people in Uganda.

Ross said "I found juggling my studies with my political commitments quite a challenge but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Through my work in the local community I was able to see the practical application of what I had learnt in the classroom."

He says that his desire to get into local politics stemmed from the role models he found in his family and his school - St Machar Academy. With all these commitments he sometimes felt that he missed out on typical student experiences. Ross also served as Chairman of the Aberdeen Civic Forum where he sought to give students in Aberdeen a voice in community matters by integrating them into the forum.

2012 is quite the year for Ross as not only did he get elected to Aberdeen City Council and graduate, he will also become a father by the end of the year. When asked about his plans for the future, Ross said he wanted to concentrate on family life and his role as a councillor and with Tillydrone Vision.

Honorary Graduate - Duncan Macniven

Duncan Macniven, who holds an MA and MLitt in History from the University, was Registrar General for Scotland from 2003 to 2011. A career civil servant, he held senior appointments with the Scottish Office (as Head of Police, Fire and Emergencies Group) and the Forestry Commission (as Commissioner and Head of Corporate Services). As Registrar General, with the help of over 300 staff, he was responsible for registering births, marriages and deaths, running the NHS Central Register and organising the 2011 Census. His department used the information from these and other sources to calculate and publish statistics about Scotland's population, and maintained the best family history information in the world, much praised by amateur genealogists.

Unusually for a civil servant, he was a familiar sight in the media, explaining the Census and Scotland's demography to a wide audience. In his final year as Registrar General, Duncan Macniven oversaw the amalgamation of the General Register Office for Scotland and the National Archives of Scotland, responsible for Scotland's historical records, to form the National Records of Scotland in April 2011.

Paul Murray

Four years ago, Paul Murray was in hospital learning how to walk, talk and speak again after major brain surgery to remove a tumour.

Today he collects a degree in music - an achievement all the more remarkable because he had also had to teach himself how to play his instrument all over again after his tumour - and multiple sclerosis - left him partially paralysed.

Paul, a talented pianist, has learned to play using only his left hand and now performs some of the most complicated music ever written. When he started at Aberdeen Paul, who is originally from Glasgow, said it was a 'dream come true'. But mid-way through his first year he began to experience crippling headaches and a brain scan detected a massive tumour.

"It all happened so quickly," he said. "I was given the weekend to spend with my family and then admitted to hospital on the Monday. I spent nearly three months in the Southern General in Glasgow, including my 18th birthday, and after undergoing four major surgeries I was told recovery could take years. During my rehabilitation I had to learn how to walk, talk and even chew again but I was determined to recover and return to University. In the end I only missed six months and started my first year again in 2008"

But as a student of music Paul was worried about how he could continue to perform without the full use of his right hand.

"I talked things through with Professor Paul Mealor and he suggested I try left-hand repertoire. It was not something I was really aware of but I looked into it and discovered it is some of the most complex music ever written. Despite using only one hand, it is not diminished in any way as movement and speed are always constant."

Paul relished the new challenge and quickly mastered the new techniques required. Even a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in his third year did not prevent him from pursuing his dream of obtaining a music degree and he says it is his passion for his subject which has kept him going through 'dark' times.

"Being told you have multiple sclerosis, especially when you have already overcome a serious illness, is pretty devastating but having come through worse I was determined it wouldn't hold me back. Music is something I love. I wasn't brought up with classical music and didn't play the piano at all until I was 15 but the minute I did I was hooked. There were times when I wasn't sure I'd survive let alone complete my degree so my graduation day will be quite emotional. Music has definitely been my inspiration to get through things and I hope that I can now share some of that with others through my performances."

Paul will stay at Aberdeen next year for a Master's in Composition which he will undertake with Professor Mealor, who shot to fame last year after his music featured at the Royal wedding and he penned a number one hit for the Military Wives Choir.

He hopes one day to use his talents to compose film scores and over the summer will appear in a Channel 4 documentary on the life of Chopin. "I know that with my illness there's a chance I won't be able to continue performing forever and I've really enjoyed the composition side of my degree so I'm delighted to have been accepted onto the course and it will be wonderful to benefit from Professor Mealor's experience," he added.

Rachel Shanks

Rachel Shanks (44) from Stonehaven, graduates today with a PhD in Education which she juggled with responsibilities in the local community and a family.

She started the PhD when her children were 8, 4 and 2 years old after leaving her job at the University's Centre of Lifelong Learning. Rachel also balanced her studies with part-time work at Ferryhill Community Centre where she taught French and courses for the B.Ed., Community Learning and Masters programmes in the School of Education. She was awarded funding from the Higher Education Academy to disseminate her research to practitioners and she has held several short research posts at the university, for example working on an Esmee Fairbairn Foundation project and a Scottish Government funded research project.

On top of all of this, Rachel is an active member of her local community. Rachel sits on the Stonehaven and District Community Council, Mackie Academy Parent Council, Arduthie School PTA Committee, volunteers as a flood warden and at the Tolbooth Museum in Stonehaven, and she stood as a councillor for the Scottish Green Party in the local elections in May. Rachel, who already has a Law degree and Masters in Legal Studies, made three previous attempts to study for a PhD but it was her PhD on new teachers which stuck.

Rachel said, "I still can't believe I've finished, after 4 years the studying became a normal part of life and it seems rather odd not to have to worry about it."

She will spend the day with her husband and three children at the University, visiting the new Library and enjoying the atmosphere. They are holding a graduation party at home the following day.