Students gaining their degrees from the University of Sunderland in the previous summers were forced to miss out on the pride and tradition of graduation day as covid measures meant ceremonies could not take place.
And as well as giving graduates and their families and friends a chance to take pride in the culmination of years of hard work, city leaders say the influx of visitors will prove a massive boost to Wearside’s economy with thousands enjoying the city’s cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels, travel and tourism.
The next two weeks will see record numbers of students in the city, with around 2,500 returning for the ceremonies at the Stadium of Light between July 4 and July 8, after missing out in 2020 and 2021 due to covid restrictions.
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The following week a further 2,500 students from the Class of 2022 will celebrate their graduations at the venue.
The university hosted a series of online graduations during the pandemic but always pledged to invite students back to graduate in-person.
Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor and chief executive of the University of Sunderland, said: “After the major disruption of the past two years because of covid, it is wonderful to have so many of our former students return to the Stadium of Light to be with us this week.
“The achievements of our graduating classes are particularly noteworthy. I am delighted therefore that they have this opportunity to celebrate in-person with their family and friends.”
Among those finally graduating is Stacy Humphrey who, within weeks of finishing her nursing programme in March 2020, was on the NHS frontline as the UK went into lockdown.
Stacy said: “I actually started work in the very first week of lockdown, it was a daunting but exciting prospect as a registered nurse.
“The past couple of years I have worked within the Emergency Department and Coronary Care and have come full circle back to the University, now lecturing on the BSc Nursing Top Up Programme.
“I’m very excited to be finally graduating in person this year and I am also looking forward to supporting our 2022 graduates.”
The ceremonies are the latest in a series of high-profile events hosted by the Stadium of Light this summer, following on from the Ed Sheeran and Elton John concerts.
Leaders from across the city have also welcomed the returning students, and the boost the ceremonies would give to the city’s businesses.
Sharon Appleby, chief executive of Sunderland BID said: “It’s absolutely brilliant to be able to welcome back the students who missed out on their graduations in 2020 and 2021.
“Hopefully they will be able to see some massive changes in the city centre and when they are out and about, they will enjoy what our diverse businesses have to offer.
“The student community is so important to the vibrancy of the city and the businesses benefit hugely when they are studying in the city.”
She added: “We are looking forward to seeing the graduates and their families and to welcoming the new students who are coming later in the year.”
Councillor Graeme Miller, Leader of Sunderland City Council, added: “I’d like to congratulate Sunderland’s graduates and welcome back those returning to the city. I know the last two years will have been a challenging time to be a student, but I hope the classes of 2020 and 2021 enjoy coming back and are now finally able to celebrate their achievements.
“Those returning may notice some new businesses have appeared in and around the city centre since their last visit. With thousands of graduates returning to Sunderland with their friends and family, I’m sure the city’s hotels and hospitality businesses will receive a boost throughout July.”