The first ever student to achieve a postgraduate degree at the University of Stirling has returned to campus to congratulate its 100,000th graduate.
Dr Hazel Sommerville, 77 – one of six who graduated in 1968, a year after the University opened – offered her best wishes to Baijun Liu, 28, from Liaoning Province, China – who is one of more than 1,400 to graduate from Stirling this week.
Hazel Sommerville met Baijun Liu on campus
Dr Somerville joined fellow alumni Alastair Gentleman, Sue Roberts and Lorn and Mary MacIntyre – who also were among some of the first to graduate from Stirling – to acknowledge the occasion.
Baijun graduates with an MLitt Publishing Studies, having moved to Stirling from Shanghai in February 2021. She said: “I feel excited and very fortunate, to have been named the 100,000th graduate. I studied copyright trading for my undergraduate degree, and there are not many universities that offer publishing – I was happy that Stirling does.
“I found the course very informative, covering all aspects of the publishing industry, and my tutors were very supportive. I enjoyed online lessons because, as English isn’t my first language, it meant I could watch tutorials and videos a few times. Although we didn't have as many opportunities for offline practical activities due to COVID, the tutors encouraged us to participate in online book fair events and keep up with industry developments.”
Reflecting on her time in Stirling, the self-confessed Scotch whisky lover, added: “This year I focussed on my studies, but I did go to Highlands and to the Isle of Skye, which was beautiful.
“The campus of the University of Stirling is absolutely beautiful too. The natural surroundings can be very inspiring for your studies. I can’t imagine being tired of studying in the library, when you’re looking out of the window at the beautiful loch – you instantly relax.
“I’m living in Edinburgh now and looking for a job in publishing – eventually I’d like to work in international contract trading, and even have my own publishing house one day.”
Lord Robbins conferring the first Master’s Degree of the University to Hazel Sommerville (nee Cairns) at the inaugural graduation ceremony, Pathfoot Dining Hall, December 1968
Dr Sommerville, of Doonfoot, Ayrshire, was one of just six ‘Class of ’68’ graduates, having completed one of two master’s programmes offered at the time – an MSc Mathematical Psychology, the other being MSc Technological Economics.
Dr Sommerville said: “I was delighted to meet Baijun and I wish her all the best for the future. To all the 2021 graduates I would say: ‘Carpe diem: Grasp opportunities as they come along and don’t shy away from challenges.’”
Dr Somerville joined fellow alumni Alastair Gentleman, Sue Roberts and Lorn and Mary MacIntyre – who also were among some of the first to graduate from Stirling – to meet some of the University's November graduates on campus.
Thinking back to her own experience at Stirling and her graduation in 1968, she reflected: “There were only four of us on my course, and just over 200 altogether on campus – staff and students – so everyone socialised together.
“Computers and photocopiers were very new back then – I remember you had to punch information onto cards and feed them into a computer. We wrote essays by hand and relied on books – we had access to all of Scotland’s university libraries, so I used to travel to Glasgow and Strathclyde sometimes.
“The 1968 graduation ceremony was held in Pathfoot Coffee Lounge – it was very special and intimate, with excellent food and wine. There was all the pomp and circumstance of graduation but with only six graduates!”
Arts students on the steps of Pathfoot at Stirling's 1971 graduation
Today, the University has a diverse student population of more than 14,000, with 120 nationalities represented on campus, and degree course partnerships in Oman, Singapore, Japan and the United Arab Emirates. The campus covers 330 acres and recent developments include a new, multi-million-pound Sports Centre and Campus Central – a three-storey building, located at the heart of campus, providing extended study and social spaces.
Karl Magee, University Archivist, said: “When the University of Stirling opened, all activity, academic and social, took place in the Pathfoot building, with the rest of the campus still to be developed.
“In that first year, a total of 195 students studied a range of subjects – the most popular being Sociology, Psychology and English. It’s amazing to think that today the University is celebrating its 100,000th graduate.”
Memories from Stirling's first graduates
Alastair Gentleman, who graduated in the first undergraduate ceremony in 1971, remembers his celebration well: “The early graduation ceremonies took place in the refectory in Pathfoot, a venue which a few months before my own graduation in 1971 had hosted an Elton John concert! Afterwards, we celebrated with a ball in Stirling Castle.”
Alastair, who studied biology and went on to become a teacher, was the first student to enrol at the University. He said: “We were excited but apprehensive about Stirling. Keep in mind that many, if not most, of the ‘67 intake pioneers would have applied for a place at a university which wasn’t completed or even built. There was a real feeling that we weren’t just starting university but were starting a university, the first completely new one in Scotland for 400 years.”
Lorn MacIntyre pictured at his graduation in 1971
Scottish author and poet, Lorn MacIntyre, also of the Class of 1967, has fond memories of his time at Stirling: “My enduring memory is of the smallness and intimacy of the University in its first year, and the privilege and novelty of being pioneers for a new form of teaching.
“From modest beginnings, it has expanded into a large campus of many buildings. Another striking difference, is that in the late 1960s there were no individual computers, but files to be lugged between lectures, tutorials and laboratory works, and a proliferation of paper.”
L to R: Dr Somerville, Alastair Gentleman, Sue Roberts and Lorn and Mary MacIntyre
Sue Roberts was the first in her family to go to university. She remembers: “The ceremony took place in the dining hall at Pathfoot and I was very impressed with the ceremonial procession. Charlie Allerdyce (the senior porter) carried the mace followed by Lord Robbins (Chancellor), the Principal, Tom Cottrell, and senior academics, resplendent in their robes!
“The main differences from 1967 to now are the size, diversity and choice of subject and, of course, how technology has changed the way we learn. We didn’t have computers or mobile phones. We used call boxes and had to feed the money in! Essays were written by hand and we did not have a spell checker. We knew and mixed with staff and students in Alangrange social club, and the ‘barracuda’ [sports centre with an inflatable structure] had an indoor tennis court.”