Universiteit Leiden

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Graduation Day for BA International Studies Students

Organised in three separate sessions throughout the day, and broadcast live online to guests and families who could not join, over 200 students received their Bachelor’s Diploma of International Studies on 3 September 2021 at the graduation ceremony in the historic Pieterskerk in Leiden.

For the second year in a row the ceremony was adapted to accommodate Covid regulations. Each session consisted of students from two or three of the eight regions of the world that can be studied in the International Studies programme. That way, the students were still able to graduate together with their closest peers. As in 2020, the ceremony was also live-streamed, enabling a large audience of family and friends to tune in and witness this special occasion. This year, however, there was the added innovation that graduates unable to attend could join live via a screen collage behind the stage.

Messages of congratulations

Happy, congratulatory video messages for the graduates were provided by members of the International Studies staff, all of whom had only online contact with their students in the previous academic year. The Alumnus speech was provided by Sophie Hagen, graduate of 2020, who in her inimitable style had a perfect mix of humour with seriousness to reflect on the past few years and also wish everyone well for their next steps.

Programme Chair Prof. Giles Scott-Smith delivered the Commencement speech in person in the Pieterskerk. He began by commenting on another graduation held in the context of Covid, which again forced a changed format but also brings out the best in terms of adapting and innovating to keep things going.

The graduates of 2021 have gone through a full academic year being almost completely online. The student community was scattered in different locations. The hope had been that from September 2020 a relatively normal semester could be arranged, but that soon turned out to be impossible. This was a far from an ideal situation for the third-year students to complete the remaining elements of their Bachelor degree. Internships outside of the Netherlands were disrupted and largely cancelled, and study abroad plans had to be either postponed or abandoned. As a result many third years shifted to gaining the necessary credits through following a Minor at Leiden or elsewhere. Then there was still the thesis to complete and Practising International Studies to navigate, no small matter when group work needed to be coordinated online. Yet each group was still able to submit a first-class report, drawing praise from the course’s partners outside of the university. This was a testing year and it is exceptional that so many were able to complete all the requirements and can celebrate their achievement as 2021 graduates.

The graduates leave the programme at the beginning of a decade that has been labelled as a crucial period of transition. Transition towards a sustainable, carbon-free economic system as part of a general re-adjustment of priorities and goals across society. Ideally the greater awareness of the need for change will lead to a renewal of political values towards a more equitable and just reality based on solidarity rather than competition. These are ambitious but attainable goals, and they demand a greater ability to face up to long-term challenges. The graduates of 2021 will be a part of these processes at both global and local levels as they move along in their careers in the coming decade and beyond.  

Scott-Smith finished by thanking all of his colleagues in International Studies – lecturers, tutors, study advisors, administrative staff, and everybody else connected to the programme – for their tremendous efforts to ensure academic year 2020-2021 could be completed on time and in such impressive fashion. The programme community demonstrated once again that they have the skills, commitment, and creativity to maintain standards and quality in demanding circumstances. He wished the graduates all the best for their next steps, and expressed his hope that they will stay in touch via the programme’s growing alumni network.

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