Universiteit Leiden

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International Studies students receive their diploma

Organised in four separate sessions throughout the day, and broadcast live online to guests and families who could not join, a total of 260 students received their Bachelor’s Diploma of International Studies on 28 August 2020 at the graduation ceremony in the historic Pieterskerk in Leiden.

The event was extra-special due to the uncertainties of the previous months, and the need to close off the 2019-2020 academic year in a proper fashion. Each session consisted of students from two 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. The ceremony was also live-streamed, enabling a large audience of family and friends to tune in and witness this special occasion.

Alumnus speech

The ceremony was shortened this year to keep the groups smaller and so ensure that public health regulations were fully respected. For this reason, the Alumnus speech was provided via video by 2019’s two Most Outstanding Students, Imogen Stevens and Karen Chica Gomez. Imogen and Karen congratulated the new graduates on their achievement, and reflected on the past year as they have moved on from International Studies.

For Karen, the experience of moving from her home in the Ecuadoran-Peruvian border area to become a graduate in Leiden was immense, as it was also for her family. Imogen talked of her transition to a science-based MA exploring climate change, with all the different forms and tools of learning that this brings. Nevertheless she praised the central role of debate and discussion that she encountered in International Studies, something different from the scientific environment she now engages with. Karen looked back very positively on the remarkable cultural diversity of the International Studies community, which opened up new worlds for her and also taught her to be critical in a constructive manner.

For both Imogen and Karen, nothing is to be taken for granted – least of all, as they pointed out, in a situation where the Corona virus is forcing us to change the way we live. They both closed off with inspirational words for the graduates of 2020. Imogen: ‘Stay active, stay critical, and keep engaging in these difficult discussions.’ Karen: ‘I believe what really matters is the determination, passion and perseverance for long-term goals despite adversity – that is why I travelled over two continents to study.’

Commencement speech

Programme Chair Prof. Giles Scott-Smith delivered the Commencement speech in person in the Pieterskerk. He began by emphasising how important it was for the graduation ceremony to go ahead this year, even in a heavily adapted form, in order to properly close off the 2019-2020 academic year for everyone involved.

The Spring of 2020 represented a restless, stressful, and challenging final few months for the International Studies graduates. For a start, in March the student community scattered in many directions as many of the international students went home to their families while others remained in The Hague or the Netherlands. The transition to online education was on the whole smooth, based on the personal feedback the programme has received from students and the results of student surveys. Nevertheless, this was a far from ideal situation for the third-year students to complete the remaining elements of the Bachelor degree. The graduating students needed to round off their theses on time despite often facing difficulties regarding lack of access to libraries or other necessary resources. Yet the number of completed and submitted theses still matched the results of previous years.

Then there was Practicing International Studies, with its group assignments, which required special re-arrangements to keep running. Yet each student group was still able to submit a first-class report, drawing praise from the course’s partners outside of the university such as Amnesty International. After such a demanding few months, it was extra special to be able to gather together – albeit with the 1.5 metre distancing strictly enforced – in order to sign off and celebrate the graduation of around 300 students. In many ways, they have laid a positive marker for future generations of students, as academic year 2020-2021 looks like it will be largely online as well.

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 2019-2020 could be completed on time and in such impressive fashion. Based on this experience, the programme team demonstrated they have the skills, commitment, and creativity to deal with the challenges of online education. 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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