The Space

taking a step

Dec 17, 2023

(on the video above go to 4:45 to see my actual graduation, and 25:20 for the Vice Chancellors speech)

You'd think for my sixth university degree I'd know what I was doing at a graduation — I had no idea and I had to go to Youtube to do a little preparation to calm my nerves. Until last week, the only graduation I had actually been to was also in University of Glasgow's Bute Hall, but I wasn't paying much attention. In 1995 when I graduated with a Bachelors in Architecture there were hundreds of undergraduates in total. To be honest, it was an event I was attending so my mum could celebrate, not me. One of my sisters was also there, but she had the Manchester United v Arsenal game on her headphones so she wasn't really present either! We were young and didn't understand the importance of the occasion, and no one had really explained it to me.

 graduation: to take a step

This graduation was taking a huge step for me  it was an acknowledgement not just of an eight year doctoral research journey, but of 50 years of resilience, defiance, and dare I say achievement. This acknowledgement is a big deal for someone who is not used to celebrating anything — receiving gifts is my third love language, my first is acts of service, and second is quality time. 

Side note  You can find out more about Gary Chapman's love languages work here  the assessment is available for adults, teens, and kids and is brilliant for really understanding how your loved ones and colleagues want to be appreciated  yes, I love it when I know what my work colleagues love languages are! 

It was so important to me that I did two things I would not normally do  they are gold dust for when it comes to a graduation or any important event. I hired a photographer to document the day (photos will be shared when available!); and I decided to buy my graduation robes  let's break down the latter... 

I am buying the robes for two reasons. 


So my nieces and nephews can try them on get a sense of the importance of a university graduation. I know there are various routes to a career and a university degree is not the only way, but aspiration and direction is important. So when I get the robes I will be inviting those younger than me to 'try them on' so they subconsciously know and feel that going to university, and even getting a PhD is open to them, if that is what they want to do. 

The piece on aspiration is really important. At the graduation I got involved in a conversation with a few others in the row behind me about a topic so unimportant I recollect anything except for what happened after. The person I spoke with lives a literally few miles away from me, and we both travelled to Glasgow to meet, have a short conversation, and exchange numbers. At the end of the discussion he said something which has made me psychologically move the research side of my 'work portfolio' from it being a side hustle to it being a significant contributing factor to the direction of travel I take as a leadership advisor, coach, and researcher. This Muslim Black man with African and Caribbean heritage, who has lived all over the world, has family in many countries, and did his Masters degree via distance learning said

'With your doctorate you have a seat at the table now. Minority people like us struggle a lot to get that seat. Our story is one where we study a great deal, we look for equal opportunities, work hard, train up... and then what?

We go abroad and are treated as second class because of the colour of our skin. We come back and are treated as second class because of the colour of our skin, our faith, your gender....

This is our country, the land we belong to, and we want to be part of making it flourish and thrive. 

Sometimes the door is open a tiny bit, it is enough for us to work and learn and fail and be mentored and succeed and grow.

We are the ones to plant new seeds. 

You are an inspiration for all of us, your community, and your family. 

It is good to see you showing up here.'

That short exchange will stay with me for the rest of my life.

He is right, I have to take my post doctorate research 'side hustle' more seriously. At the same time, I will treat it with the lightness that Anne Lamont encourages in her book Bird by Bird - Some Instructions on Writing and Life, she writes

'We need to make messes in order to find out who we are.'

If you know me, you know I like to shake things up a little, to make a focused, deliberate, mess. I have been doing this since I was 16. I went to meet an old teacher, Mr Trafford, few months ago. I wanted to ask him what I was like, how did he deal with me given I had never studied design technology before — I had been told it was a boys subject, so no surprise it wasn't taught at my girls school. At a different school, Mr Trafford took a chance on me and I wanted to know why. When we met he said 'You were a breath of fresh air, you challenged us... Thats why we called you 'The Boss!' 

— Yes I am laughing out loud, and rolling my eyes, at that nickname! —

Mess invites change.

It is an antidote to perfectionism for all those involved.

Messiness gets things done.

Messiness helps us to show up... as a breath of fresh air, and to challenge the status quo. 

Messiness is what opens the door...

... and transforms things for the better.


I sought advice on whether I should purchase the robes  I can buy a black abaya (similar to the graduation robe, the long dress that many Muslim women wear) for £30; a graduation robe and hood can cost cost £300-1000, and as my Professor told me it is fashioned for Victorian men! All over the world the design of graduation garments are based on the Arab/Islamic bisht, which is a formal cloak/cover worn at celebrations and big occasions  remember Messi wearing a bisht at the World Cup when he picked up the trophy? Here is an explanation of why him wearing it was an honour reserved for a few people. 

A few people said that I should buy it as I'll be wearing it again. I'm not sure what they mean, but I do know that I have more to learn and my formal education is not over. And maybe I might even end up with a 'something' at a university where I'll need to attend a graduation in a different role! To be honest, I might even wear these items on Eid! 

Owning these robes is a reminder of an achievement, and an aspiration for further acknowledgements and celebrations.

These garments represent inspiration and aspiration.

Why am I sharing these personal stories with you? Because I know that you are an inspiration for someone, you are a breath of fresh air, when you bring challenge to a space that is a good thing! 

It is good to see you showing up in all the small and big ways that you do.... and stir things up a little!

"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other" 

John F Kennedy (1917-1963)

By showing up to the university graduation I was able to witness an event full of tradition, ceremony and care. There is a Latin verse read as the procession enters at the start of the graduation, then there is a Christian prayer of thanksgiving (you can see this at the start of the video here). It is worth watching the first few minutes just to experience this. My graduation takes place at 4:45 in the video so do fast forward to it if you wish!

At minute 25:20 the Vice Principle and Head of College of Arts gives a speech. In it she said something really important: 'we strive to not only be the best university in the world, but to be the best university for the world.' These are important words that act as an inspiration for those of us who are leaders and work with leaders  rather than being the best, how can you be the best for the world?

A big question to leave you with I know... 

Before I end The Space reflection invitations for today, let me share with you two things that I watched/listened to on the drive to Scotland and back and recommend: 

— A BBC Sounds podcast series called The Banksy Story  I love Banksy's work. He is described as a 'street artist and political activist'

— A BBC iPlayer series on imposter syndrome. There is so much more to explore on this topic, I am sure I will write about it one day (if you are interested here is a recording of when I discussed imposter syndrome on LBC radio in UK)

That's it for now. See you next week.

All my best,


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