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University of Sunderland Graduations: "Dream big dreams"

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Published on 12 July 2022

Emeli Sandé
Emeli Sandé

Multi-platinum singer/songwriter and Chancellor of the University of Sunderland, Emeli Sandé, has given a special speech at the Stadium of Light as thousands of students prepare for their next chapter.

Around 2,500 students from the Class of 2022 are graduating at the venue this week (July 11 - July 15) as part of the University's biggest ever graduation celebration. 

Last week saw more than 2,000 return for the ceremonies after missing out in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID restrictions.

Today, Emeli urged graduates to "dream big" as they are capable of achieving their goals, whatever their background or circumstances. 

Read her full speech below: 


Thank you everyone who has been part of our ceremony today. It is so lovely to be back here.

It was July 2019 when our graduates were last on this platform for a summer graduation. 

You are all amazing. Despite every obstacle put in your way, you have proven how resilient and brilliant you all are; fantastic and well done.

Each of you, in your own unique way, have demonstrated resilience, determination and commitment in abundance – and, trust me, these are qualities which will serve you well as you move on into your chosen life path. 

So, can I please ask the audience to join me once again in applauding your success – a huge congratulations.

Let me also acknowledge our guests joining us today – family, friends, supporters. You have my deepest thanks for the support and encouragement that you have given our new graduates. On their behalf, thank you for all that you have done.

Congratulations once again to Helen McArdle CBE who has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Business Administration.

Finally, the thanks would not be complete without a special mention for all the staff of the University who have contributed so much to the success of our new graduates. To each and every person who works at the University – whether on the academic or professional services’ side – thank you for your outstanding efforts.

For me personally, it is so nice to be back in this wonderful venue for this week’s celebrations. I have such lovely memories of presenting my own parents with their graduation certificates on this very stage just a few years ago.

My father was the first in his family to go to university. He was accepted on merit into Sunderland polytechnic as one of a group of students from Mpelembe, a national school for high attaining students in Zambia. Out of five children, my mother was one of two siblings in her family who pursued a degree. Coming from a background where University was not necessarily discussed at home nor considered the natural next step following school, my mother attended Sunderland polytechnic through a government grant system. Both of my parents pioneered a new quality of life through their studies. It was here that my parents met in the 80s and became an interracial couple in an openly racist era. They welcomed me here in Sunderland and became a family of three as students. Balancing childcare between themselves and a small support network of true friends, both of my parents were able to complete their studies and could offer my sister and I a path to follow in. Which we both did. A dream that might have seemed unrealistic to others (and maybe even themselves) at the time, for them came true. 

This is one of the greatest features of the University of Sunderland – something that makes it so special – is its commitment to diversity and inclusion – its willingness to support people from all backgrounds – contributing to the balance of what is fair and just. 

As your Chancellor, I’m passionate that we provide the opportunities to make dreams come true – for every person of every race, religion, financial standing, sexual orientation and individual beliefs. We are a unified University that welcomes all.

This is my message to you. Dream big dreams. Never dream too small, because your dreams are possible. You are capable of achieving your highest ambitions. So why limit yourself by limiting your dreams? Take this momentum and fly with it! Have confidence in yourself. Cultivate it from within. There are obstacles on the outside, yes, but with a strong inner faith there is nothing beyond your capacity. The world shapes around you, who you believe yourself to be. So start from the inside – it’s where all dreams begin. 

Never take no for an answer. Persevere. If you meet some difficulties along the way, that’s ok, expect to . Meet temporary failures with grace and gratitude – they are part of the bigger picture of your success. If you are the first in your family to attend University, walk with your head held high as you pioneer a new way. If you are the first, you will not be the last. 

Congratulations again on reaching this important milestone. Today represents a new beginning as you embark on the next phase of life. Remember, you are part of a global institution. When you register to join our Alumni Association you’ll be joining thousands of graduates from across the UK and around the world. And you will all have one thing in common – you have graduated from the University of Sunderland. You will find you are in very good company.

I. Us. The University – we want you to leave ready to make a difference for the better. Knowledge is wealth. You are rich in knowledge. Go spend that knowledge in the right places! 

In whatever you choose to do, be open in your thinking, truthful to who you are, generous in spirit and always alive to the needs of others.

So, Class of 2022, and on behalf of the whole University – congratulations! We will be watching with interest to see where your ambitions take you next.

At the same time, keep a place in your heart for the University of Sunderland and talk proudly of your time with us.

To everyone here, enjoy the rest of your day!