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With real-world experience and degrees in hand, Northeastern London graduates celebrate accomplishments

On Wednesday, about 40 graduates earned degrees at the Barbican Centre, a theater packed with proud families, friends and faculty.

Students wearing caps and gown clapping.
About 40 graduates received degrees from Northeastern University at the Barbican Centre in London. Photo by Carmen Valino for Northeastern University

LONDON — In 2020, Northeastern University London launched its first degree program that included an apprenticeship.

Similar to other Northeastern co-ops, the apprenticeships allow students to combine their academic studies with real-world experience with esteemed employers such as Medway Council. 

David Holloway, a student from Kent in southeast England, was part of that pioneering group of about 15 students four years ago.

On Wednesday, Holloway was one of about 40 graduates who earned degrees at the Barbican Centre, a theater packed with proud families, friends and faculty.

Holloway spoke movingly of the personal tragedy that spurred him to earn his bachelor’s degree in data science.

In addition to his studies and apprenticeship, the father of three boys also worked full time and helped care for his dad with a terminal illness.

“My dad encouraged me to take this opportunity,” he said.

Diagnosed in 2013, he passed away in 2021.

“It feels amazing [to have finished],” Holloway said. “It’s taught me that opportunities arise and you may not think you can do it at the time. But if you say yes, then you find a way.”

Holloway, who completed his apprenticeship at Medway Council, earned his first college diploma nearly 20 years ago. That degree in geographical information systems led him to a career as a crime analyst.

Like all of his fellow graduates, the Northeastern degree will allow him to expand his employment opportunities.

“When you talk about an apprenticeship, you often think of someone starting out in their working life and learning from experience,” Holloway said. “However, [apprenticeships] are not just for those starting out in their careers. They offer a chance for lifelong learning.”

Anthony Grayling is a British philosopher and founder of London’s New College of the Humanities, which finalized its merger with Northeastern in 2019.

Grayling kicked off Wednesday’s degree ceremony by welcoming the graduates.

“I’m full of admiration for you,” he said. “I’ve been looking at some of the dissertation topics and they look to me to be full of rich interest, addressing as they do contemporary concerns of today.”

Grayling then spoke to the value of apprenticeships.

“You will be able to continue to affect that two-way traffic between reflection and practice,” he said. “Thinking about what we do, putting it to work, and bringing it back to see what we’ve learned being out there in the world doing the job.

“In all these ways I think we’ve got a great deal to applaud today.”

Almost half the diplomas awarded were master’s degrees in a range of subjects from philosophy to artificial intelligence, to AI with a human face, responsible AI and digital politics and sustainable developments.

The other half were a mixture of degree apprenticeship bachelor’s and master’s degrees in data science, AI, digital and technology solutions, and an applied learning multiverse bachelor’s in digital and technology solutions.

As any data scientist should, Holloway provided the numbers on apprenticeship degrees. 

“There were 1,287 hours of on-the-job learning, 198 learning tests, 60 assignments completed (normally after some very late nights), seven pieces of advice assessments, an endpoint exam, a professional discussion, and a workplace report,” he said.

Another student speaker, John Hahn, a master’s degree recipient in artificial intelligence with a human face, reflected on the positive changes Northeastern’s London campus has undergone.

Hahn also earned his undergraduate degree from the university.

“When I started my undergraduate degree at the New College of Humanities, it was a tiny institution a stone’s throw from the British Museum with a student body of under 200,” he said.

“All of us have witnessed a college in a tremendous state of growth. More students, more faculty and staff, more courses and more opportunities. The people here really do care.”

The final student speaker, David Gavin Collier, earned his bachelor’s degree in digital and technology solutions.

“This marks the culmination of a three-year journey to correct a mistake I made 20 years ago,” he said to laughter.

“I wasn’t ready to commit to higher education, so at 18 years old I made a decision … the world needed me, I couldn’t wait. Much to my surprise, it turned out, the world wasn’t all that fussed.”

He added: “The truth is, I’ve worked my way up to a good career. But that decision at 18 has always stayed with me. Now, over two decades later, I feel like I have undone that wrong.”

Maya, age 4, watched her father, Thomas Foreman, receive his master’s degree in philosophy and AI. The little girl, dressed in Northeastern red and black, clutched a black mortarboard.

Once the scrolls had been collected, Dean Scott Wildman congratulated the graduates, before adding, “I wonder if you will humor me and allow me to go off script for two minutes. 

“Today in our audience there is a young lady who has been extremely patient and well behaved. I wondered if she and her mother would like to come up on stage and be congratulated, too.”

Holding her mother Amanda’s hand, the 4-year-old made her way onstage. As the volume of clapping increased, Maya became shy, jumping into her mother’s arms. They hugged and waved and Amanda placed the academic cap on her daughter’s head, to wild cheers.