Women and children’s rights campaigner Lydia Okroj and Paralympic gold medallist David Smith MBE have today [June 30] been recognised with honorary degrees from the University of Stirling.
Ms Okroj – who has worked in the Women’s Aid movement in Scotland for more than 40 years and dedicated her life to championing and defending the rights of women who experience domestic abuse – was recognised for her outstanding contribution to women’s and children’s rights.
Mr Smith – a two-time world champion and Paralympic gold medallist in rowing – has hit incredible levels within sport, despite facing serious and repeated challenges to his health. An inspiration to others, he received an honorary doctorate for his outstanding achievements in Paralympic sport.
They received their honorary doctorates at graduation ceremonies on the University of Stirling campus today. Across four ceremonies held yesterday and today, a total of 1,925 students have graduated from the University, joining its 100,000-strong global alumni community.
Ms Okroj, said: "I am delighted to receive this honorary doctorate. Since the 1970s, University of Stirling staff have contributed significantly to the body of research into the causes and consequences of domestic abuse. It is therefore particularly heartening to receive this honour from the University, acknowledging the work that myself and other Women’s Aid workers have done to support and promote the rights of Women and Children who have experienced domestic abuse."
Mr Smith said he felt “overwhelmed” on receiving news of his honorary degree and added: “I feel very humbled to be recognised in this way by the University of Stirling, and proud to be included in the graduation day and to celebrate the successes of all the students.”
Ms Okroj has championed defending the rights of women and children who experience domestic abuse through the Women’s Aid movement in Scotland since 1981. She strives to improve services for women and children, playing a pivotal role in improving the quality and accessibility of refuge accommodation across the UK.
In a leadership role, she developed a new model to better process and meet the needs of women and children in registration and regulation with the Care Commission / Inspectorate. She now manages Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline and, with her team, transformed the helpline to respond to domestic abuse during the pandemic.
David Smith MBE
A decorated international athlete, Mr Smith has faced serious health issues during his journey to the top of sport. He was born with two club feet but, undaunted by the physical challenges, went on to compete in shinty, karate, athletics and even bobsleigh, before taking up rowing – where he has realised his greatest successes, winning the World Championships twice (2009, 2011) and Paralympics once (2012). However, between his two world titles, he was diagnosed with a tumour in his back and underwent life-threatening surgery – which led to a blood clot and resulted in him being left temporarily completely paralysed.
Following his remarkable comeback in 2011, he received an MBE for services to rowing and, soon after, decided to take up cycling – but the tumour returned and ended his dream of competing in that sport at the Rio Paralympics in 2016. Despite being told he would not cycle again, he again defied doctors and recovered. Soon after, he conquered Mont Ventoux, the hardest climb in the Tour de France – not once but three times.
Today’s ceremonies celebrated the achievements of students graduating from the Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, and the University of Stirling Management School.
The University hosts three annual graduations – in spring, summer, and winter. In addition to the 1,925 graduates from the Class of 2022, this summer’s event also welcomed back around 2,000 graduates from 2020 and 2021 – who missed out on a ceremony due to the pandemic. They returned to campus between 21 and 27 June to celebrate with their families, friends, and staff.
Professor Sir Gerry McCormac, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Stirling, said: “Summer graduation is always a highlight in the university calendar – but this fortnight of events has been incredibly special, as we’ve been able to celebrate three cohorts of students – from 2020, 2021 and 2022.
“We’re delighted that they are joined by four outstanding honorary graduates who are making a real difference to the world in their respective fields and are excellent, inspirational role models for our students and graduates.
“Congratulations to all who have graduated over this two-week period.”
For more information, please visit the University’s graduation webpages.