• Michael Randall

Prize Giving Events - Law School and Secondary School Prize Giving Experiences

Last night, the law school hosted its annual prize giving event, in the new/unorthodox setting of a virtual event on Zoom. Normally, this is one of the highlights of the academic year. Graduation ceremonies are the culmination of years’ worth of hard work, but they alone can overlook the achievements from across the school. And therefore, we revel in the opportunity to meet with students still progressing through their degrees, and see some returning faces, along with extended family members, in order to celebrate achievements.

Although the usual glitz and glamour of the Barony Hall was replaced with the comfort of sitting at home in slippers, it really was an enjoyable event. Part of the reason I say this is that, unlike the virtual graduation ceremony in July, I was not on hosting duties – merely on technical support (with an additional 4 months of Zoom experience this time). The programme was devised by Rebecca Zahn/Claire McDiarmid, with additional input from Kenneth Norrie as the evening’s MC (all 3 on hosting duties on the night), with absolutely superb organisation in communicating with students and sponsors of prizes by Fiona Barrie.

A few surprises were arranged for the students, using our various contacts, whilst also being conscious of the time.

So in addition to our sponsors (I’ll list them below), we also had a keynote speech from Lady Woolfe, regarding her own experiences in continuing in a career through law, and discussing the importance of the rule of law. A really inspirational address to the students, one thing which I particularly liked was the characterisation of the law and cases/judgments as living things – in studying them, students form part of an ongoing social WhatsApp group chat, as opposed to musing on relics of the past.

We also managed to arrange a musical interlude with one of our alumni, Declan Welsh (of Declan Welsh and the Decadent West fame), to play a couple of live, acoustic tracks for the attendees. Declan, in addition to saving the attendees from the prospect of a musical interlude being provided by myself struggling to play basic chords on a slightly out of tune ukulele, spoke about the values that he picked up whilst studying at Strathclyde Law School, and how this shapes his current work. First years students currently have access to an interview that my colleague, Douglas Jack, did with him, as a ‘5 years later’ catch up.

Of course, the event is only as good as the students who are invited along. I’m always impressed by our students at Strathclyde (I’m hardly going to say anything different, am I?) for a whole host of reasons, whether that is grades, clear work ethic and improvement, their advocacy work and strong social justice values, and the work completed in both the Law Clinic and Mediation Clinic, too. But without students, we don’t host an event, and whilst I’m always happy to speak to Kenneth, Rebecca, Claire and Fiona, we speak more frequently anyway. Thankfully this year we had an excellent turnout – so much so that, whilst I was trying my best to spotlight winners on the tech side, because so many people were on the call, I kept losing track of where they were, and if I couldn’t catch the student in question, was trying to find a family member applauding them too.

The event was a little bit different from my own experience of prize giving ceremonies. During my undergraduate degree, I’m not entirely certain if such an event ran (I was not the best student in the world, let’s put it that way). I was part of the University residences team which won the ‘Best Subwarden Team’ during my PhD (was nominated for individual Subwarden of the Year too – didn’t win it. I like to think I’m not an entitled person, but that’s the one award where I legitimately should have won it, and was overlooked). That was a dinner and a trophy, but not much more than that – I haven’t put it on any CVs and am not actually sure what happened to the trophy/certificates thereafter.

However, most of my experience of prize giving is from secondary school – I actually dressed up for the occasion last night, and wore my old school tie in honour of this. As opposed to sponsors of awards, each year group had two awards for each subject – one for effort, and one for achievement. If you won a subject award, your prize was a £5 book voucher, but you could win multiple awards – Dan Chilcott won 5 awards 1 year (I’m fine about it, honest).

However, there were 5 tutorial groups, and each of these had a prize for effort and another for achievement too. If you won one of these awards, you couldn’t win a subject award and your prize was the lofty £7 in book vouchers. In 4 of the 5 years I was there, I won the tutorial group effort award, with my class mate, Emma Carpenter always winning the achievement award…I’m sure they meant well, but you would think after a while, all of that effort would lead to achievement, no? Anyhow, the last remaining category was the Head Teacher’s Award – for anyone who missed out, but they felt should get an award – I won one of these in the year I didn’t win the tutorial group effort award.

It’s nice to be recognised for something, and whilst I joke about those secondary school awards, I do still have the cookbook which I bought with the vouchers I won in year 7. I am, of course, proud of those awards in a way, but the experience at school wasn’t really about that.

One of the consistent themes which came through last night was about establishing core values and beliefs during study. Occasionally, prizes and assessment grades can gloss over that. A lot of staff here, including myself, frequently say that we are proud to be Strathclyders – peeking behind the curtain, the law school WhatsApp chat after the event reflected this. We see this every day, but it is important for this to also be something which the students and their extended family can experience too, which is why prize giving and graduations are so important – we, of course, hope that we can go back to in-person ceremonies soon, whereupon I will try and crash many a photo to mark the occasion.

As a final note, thanks again needs to go to Fiona, Rebecca, Kenneth and Claire for setting up and ultimately heading the event. Particular thanks are extended to Lady Woolfe and Declan Welsh – both gave up their free time to speak to students and help make the event successful. A note of thanks is also extended to our prize sponsors, Allen & Overy, Shepherd & Wedderburn, Dentons, Mellicks, Balfour and Manson, OUP, Greens, the Family Law Association, the Law Society of Scotland, and The Royal Faculty of Procurators.

Of course, the last thing to say is congratulations to the students. To those still with us, keep it up, and hopefully see you at the event next year, too. To those who have moved on to pastures new, don’t be modest, and don’t be a stranger.

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