Secretary General of the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award receives Honorary Doctorate from University of Bolton

The Secretary General of the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award praised the University of Bolton’s work during the pandemic as he received an honorary doctorate.

John May OBE DL was awarded a Doctor of Social Science for his outstanding contribution to Young People from Baroness Helen Newlove, the University of Bolton’s Pro Vice Chancellor.

He said: “I am chuffed to bits to be with you today. And it’s a joy to be here in person rather than on the end of a Zoom call!”

Mr May received the Honorary Doctorate in a unique Covid-secure ceremony which was filmed for a special movie documenting this year’s innovative ‘Alternative Graduation’.

The University of Bolton is one of the only ones in the UK to have invited graduands from this year and last to be presented with their degrees in person and in their gowns, giving them the chance to have official photographs of their special day.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award is a non-formal education and learning framework operating in more than 130 countries and territories around the world, through which young people’s achievements outside of academia are recognised and celebrated.

Mr May has spent his career working with and for young people in the UK and around the world.

He works with senior leaders from business, government, education and civil society to improve the opportunities and aspirations of the next generation.

He said: “I hold the University of Bolton in the highest of regard, so I feel very privileged to have been honoured by the University in this way.

“There has been a longstanding commitment here to give students the very best of experiences.

“Nothing would happen without the support and leadership of the staff of the University of Bolton. Your dedication to your students and community is exemplary and inspirational.

“The pandemic has re-written the way that we interact and the ways in which we go about our daily lives.

“It has been fantastic to see students in Bolton being given the opportunity to excel, in and out of their formal courses, in such difficult times.”

Mr May is himself a Gold Award holder, following participation at school and university.

He trained as a teacher and has worked with children and young people in a variety of situations, ranging from schools in suburban England to refugee camps in Uganda. He became a Headteacher at 28, going on to develop a reputation for regenerating underperforming schools.

He has since been the national Education Director of Business in the Community, Chief Executive of Career Academies UK and Chief Executive of Young Enterprise.

Mr May is a former non-executive director of UNICEF, helped to found ‘Teach First’ in the UK, and is a past Vice Chairman of the World Organisation of the Scout Movement. He is a visiting lecturer in education at Oxford Brookes University, sits on the Advisory Board of the University of Surrey’s Business School and is a trustee of the Marine Society and Sea Cadets.  He is a Deputy Lieutenant for Oxfordshire.

In 2008, Mr May received The Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion in recognition of his long-standing dedication to enterprise education. In 2009, he received the Freedom of the City of London.  In 2020, he was awarded an OBE for “services to young people”.


John May


Notes to Editors:

Students at the University of Bolton will be able to collect their degrees in person this summer in a series of ‘Alternative Graduations’.

A total of 7,500 students, including those whose ceremonies were cancelled last year, will be invited to the unique event, which will be filmed by a documentary crew.

The ceremonies, from July 9-16, will take place on the University’s Covid-secure campus.

An animated video, featuring a character called ‘LearnEd the Owl’, has been produced to explain to students as clearly as possible how the ‘Alternative Graduation’ will work.

From July 9-16, students will be invited individually to attend the University of Bolton’s Covid-secure campus at a specific, allotted, time slot.

Students and staff will be required to show on arrival proof of a negative lateral flow test, taken as close to the event as possible and definitely no more than 48 hours old.

Other measures, including airport-style temperature scanners at entrances, wearing face coverings and practising social distancing, will also be in place to keep students safe.

Because of the requirement to practise strict social distancing, no guests will be invited.

However, family and friends will be able to watch the final professional graduation movie at a special ‘world premiere’ in the late summer (August or September).

Graduands will arrive on campus and be dressed in their gowns and photographed, before making their way to receive their degrees individually in the Main Lecture Theatre, where there will only be essential staff attending, no guests.

As they receive their scroll on stage from the presiding officer (Head of the School of Faculty) they will have their photograph taken again and then leave via a one-way system.

The process will operate in a similar way to a Covid-19 vaccination appointment. No student should be on campus for more than 30 minutes.

The documentary film of the whole event will be directed by Professor David Thacker, a Bafta-nominated TV and Oliver Award-winning theatre director, who is the University’s Professor of Theatre.

Professor George E Holmes DL, President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Bolton, said that it was clear that students wanted to have some sort of physical graduation ceremony if it was at all possible. He added: “When we told students our plan for the Alternative Graduation it was very well received.

“As you can imagine, organising graduation this year has been a complex undertaking, as the situation and national regulations have been changing at a fast pace.

“However, I am confident that it will be a unique and special day and one that students can remember, at a time when many other universities are organising purely virtual graduations or just cancelling them.

“We were very reluctantly forced to defer our graduation ceremonies last year. We were determined that this year we would do everything we could to make the day special for our students.

“They have worked incredibly hard in the most challenging of circumstances, under some sort of restrictions for most of the past 16 months.

“They deserve to be able to physically receive their degree, to get dressed in their academic gowns and hats  and to celebrate their fantastic achievements.”

Professor Holmes said: “It is obviously not ideal that friends and family will not be able to attend this year and we understand their disappointment, but this was the only safe solution in terms of a graduation event this summer, particularly with the latest news about the prevalence of the new Delta variant.

“Instead, we have decided to produce the film which everyone will be able watch at a later date, with their friends and family and keep as a lasting memento of a special day.”

As well as the main movie featuring all graduating students, there will be several versions edited separately and featuring the individual University Schools.

Graduation | Student Area | University Of Bolton