A Graduation Story – by Karen Kelly

Attending Jane’s graduation is something I felt as a mother I had to do. Although heart breaking and extremely difficult, I felt Jane would have wanted me to be there to collect her degree on her behalf.

The morning was filled with nerves and sadness, but I was driven by a sense of duty to Jane. I know how excited she would have been. This day should have been one of the happiest and proudest in her life. This was the culmination of her work, a moment she must have dreamt of, and an event that I would, like so many others, have to do in her absence.

Jane with horsesI felt very proud to be there and happy, for the other students, as I saw them arrive with their friends and parents. Smiles adorning every face. These students, quite rightly, were looking forward to close one chapter of their life and with the expectation and hope of youth, were desperate to take the next step. A step that my Jane will never take.

I arrived flanked by Jane’s grandparents and aunt. In the preceding weeks I had regular contact with the University and they were, quite simply, brilliant: they went out of their way to accommodate us and make us feel part of this very special day.

It was 9:15am, 20th June, and we were met by a member of university staff. He led us to the robing room where we had coffee and were introduced to the Chancellor Lord Patel, Principal Pete Downes, and Hollywood actor and University Rector Brian Cox. The Dean of Duncan of Jordanstone also welcomed us along with the University Chaplain who very kindly supported the family in late 2011.

Jane in greenWe were led to our seats in the jury box, just to the left of the stage, and each of my party were presented with a single white rose. I had an idea that Jane’s name would be called, so I waited and enjoyed seeing some familiar faces collecting their degrees. After a time, Jane’s name was read out. I walked across the stage towards Lord Patel, my legs were shaking. Suddenly, the academics on stage rose to their feet and the students followed. I was taken aback. The clapping and cheering was overwhelming and it took all my energy to stay composed. This reception was testament to the way Jane’s story has touched so many people, and how well thought of she really was.

Lord Patel said a few words, handed me the degree, and a gift box containing what would have been Jane’s graduation hood: in emerald green, her favourite colour.

After walking across the stage I quickly returned to my seat, despite the kind offer of tea. I didn’t want to miss any of the ceremony.

As the ceremony ended, the academics left the stage and me, my mother, father, and sister, went next, followed by the students. We were taken back to the robing room and stood on the balcony watching the new graduates celebrate in the city square. A member of staff then told us that some students were going to stage a flash mob on the steps of the Caird Hall.

248365_10150206983828911_7606968_nAfter seeing, and learning about, flash mobs, my family and I retired for lunch. When we returned to St. Andrews we visited the cemetery and laid the white roses on Jane’s grave.

This was an incredibly difficult and emotional day for us, but one that I was so honoured to be part of. I hope Jane would have been proud of us for being able to be there on her behalf, and I know she would certainly have been delighted for her friends and fellow graduates. I will be forever grateful to the University of Dundee for giving us such a special day, and for providing Jane with the happiest years of her life.

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