Receiving an honorary doctorate from Roehampton University

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Speech to graduates, post-graduates and families at Royal Festival Hall 26th July 2016.

I would like to thank Jennifer Starbuck for her kind words. It’s a privilege to accept this honorary doctorate from Roehampton University, who is a good neighbour and partner to Battersea Arts Centre. It’s also an honour to be here today and to speak with you.

Of course, the genuinely deserving people in this room are all those of you who strived to get to Roehampton University, several years ago. And who have then worked hard to get yourself here today.

And in a moment you will stand up, and with your peers, walk up to this stage, shake the hand of one of our greatest storytellers, Jacqueline Wilson, and become a graduate, or post-graduate, of Roehampton University.

Cherish the moment of your achievement.

You did this. You worked hard. You gave up other stuff to do this. You made it happen.

This is your achievement. And you should feel incredibly proud of yourself.

I hope one of the things that you have been reminded of during your time at Roehampton, is that one of your greatest assets and strengths is your creativity.

No one owns your creativity, it’s yours.

And you can express it in any way you want.

You can make art. But you can also express your creativity through your family life, through your business, through your relationships, through the way you learn and remember, through the way you fight a campaign, even through the way you choose to celebrate your degree at Roehampton.

Personal creativity is something that is available, on tap, to every single one of us.

Our creativity can help us when we are in a corner, it helps us when we need to think differently, it helps us imagine and invent a better future, for ourselves, for each other.

Creativity is an everyday superpower. So as you step up on to this stage and then step off, towards your future, as the protagonist in your own story, remember to always nurture and care for your creativity. For example…

…choose to test your ideas in practical ways. Because by trying things rather than just thinking about them, you will develop, what I would call, greater agency over your own life.

Learn from when things don’t go well, as well as from when they do.

The great ceramicist and British icon, Grayson Perry, who used to have a studio at Battersea Arts Centre, has a sign, cast in concrete, in his studio saying “Creativity is mistakes”. He says he is reminded this is true, every time he hurls his latest mistake in to the studio dustbin.

Because this is where the useful stuff is.

The dustbin is the place that captures his mistakes so that his next idea can be better.

Remember this for yourself.

And as you walk out from this hall, don’t wait for permission from someone else to get started on something. Don’t wait for your career to arrive. Don’t wait for everything to become clear.

Be the author and the protagonist in your own life.

Use your creativity to get stuck in, be prepared to make mistakes, and learn from what happens.

 

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I would also like to suggest that as someone who now has the privilege of a degree, you also have a responsibility as you walk out of this hall.

You and I were able to study arts subjects at school.

We might even have been encouraged to do so.

Last year in 2015 there were 9,000 fewer entries for arts subjects at GCSE.

This year in 2016 there are 46,000 fewer entries for arts subjects at GCSE.

With current education policy, this trend is expected to continue.

But the issue is not just about studying arts subjects. The falling number of students studying art in our schools is a symptom of a wider concern, that we must tackle together.

We need to activate the role that creativity has to play across our curriculum in schools, understanding it as central to science, technology, engineering and maths, let alone languages, economics, law and politics. / Creativity is what makes us human.

A creative mind enabled us to make fire and learn how to use it.

Current education policy, of successive governments, seems to have forgotten this.

If we are to tackle the seismic challenges of our time – climate change, mass migration, using technology for good – then we will need to tap in to all of our collective creativity.

So as you walk outside this hall today, remember you have an incredibly important piece of knowledge.

You know just how important your creativity is…and your family or friends who are here with you, they also know how important your creativity is.

So make sure the next generation have the opportunities that you did – in fact let’s fight together to ensure creativity is valued in our schools right across the whole curriculum.

I challenge everyone in this room to use your creativity to think about how to make the point, to the right people, who are not in this room. Especially those that influence the future education of younger children in this country.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I would like to conclude by thanking the Chancellor, the Vice-Chancellor and the members of University Senate and the University Council for this great honour today, and for the chance to be here with you all.

Most of all I’d like to wish all of you, the graduating students and your families, the very best for your future and add massive congratulations for everything you have already achieved. It’s only just the beginning of your story. Make it a great story.

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