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29 August 2017
UWC Spring Graduation 2017

UWC Spring Graduation 2017: Unleashing Empowered Graduates To Change The World

“Our society is fraught with a plethora of social, economic and political challenges. It is a society that is in desperate need of inspirational and ethical leadership, and an educated and skilled populace. It is in this context that your achievement should be celebrated - as it inspires hope for the future.”

Those were the words of Professor Tyrone Pretorius, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape (UWC), addressing the graduating class of 2017 in his speech at the opening ceremony of the University’s Spring Graduation on 29 August 2017.

On this single graduation day, the University conferred a total of more than 620 degrees, diplomas and certificates, including 55 Doctoral degrees, 108 Masters degrees, 64 Honours degrees, 243 undergraduate degrees, and 71 diplomas and certificates. Together with the earlier Autumn Graduation, that means a record number of 104 doctorates and 306 master’s degrees were awarded, and nearly 5 000 graduates of all kinds capped for 2017.

“UWC is a microcosm of society and, given our commitment to widening access to higher education, we as an institution are grappling with the reality of poverty among our students,” Prof Pretorius noted. “But these numbers speak to the remarkable success story that is UWC.  And the UWC story is mirrored by the remarkable journeys of our students.”

Graduation is the culmination of many years of hard work and sacrifice for students and their loved ones, Prof Pretorius noted - but it’s also just the beginning of the next chapter in their lives, when they must put what they have learned into practice, for the betterment of their fellows.

“The University has given you the foundation, the knowledge base you can use to be change agents in our society,” he said. “I am confident that, empowered with the knowledge and skills you have acquired, among you are future entrepreneurs, dynamic innovators, educators of our children, carers of the sick and the old, intellectual shapers and leaders of various structures of society. So go out into the world and make your mark.”

UWC: A Success Story (By The Numbers)

Graduation is a time to reflect on where UWC has been, and where it’s going - and on its current status: as a world-class university that’s dedicated to excellence, producing world-class thinking and research, and impacting society in so many ways.

Here are a few UWC numbers worth remembering...

• 1: For the 2016 Nature Index, UWC is ranked number 1 in Physical Science - not just in South Africa, but for Africa as a whole.?

7: The spot UWC held in 2016 in the Times Higher Education rankings of the top universities in Africa for research influence?

10 UWC Alumni have gone on to become Rectors or Vice-Chancellors of South African universities.?

52: The number of state-of-the-art school science labs developed by UWC’s Science Learning Centre for Africa?

102: UWC’s ranking in 2016 among all 2 500 universities in the BRICS countries (placing it in the top 5 percent)?

2 000: UWC’s Research Repository holds over 2 000 papers by researchers, accessible to anybody in the world?

12 000: The number of students from South Africa and other African countries who have participated in the UWC School of Public Health’s Summer and Winter Schools since 1992, making it the largest continuing education programme in public health in Africa?

And beyond those numbers, a number of exciting and intriguing PhD and Masters research topics - not only relevant to the South African context, but also to the rest of Africa (and beyond) - have emerged from this year’s crop of top-performing graduates.

For example...

PhD candidate Usisipho Feleni from rural Cofimvaba, winner of both the 2016 L’Óreal Women in Science and 2016 DST Women in Science Doctoral Fellowship Awards, was among the graduates. In her study, Usisipho developed a smart electro-phenotype tamoxifen biosensor (b-Cancerphenosens) for determining a patient’s complete response profile to tamoxifen, the most prescribed breast cancer treatment drug.

Visually-impaired student Matthys Johannes Odendal obtained his PhD in Linguistics after having faced - and overcome - many challenges, using his unique situation to fuel a theoretically innovative study. His work explored the challenges to theories of literacy emerging out of how the visually impaired engage with ‘texts’ and think about their literacy, exercise ‘functional literacy’, and orientate themselves in the world generally - a model for future work on vulnerable groups.

PhD candidate Riaan Cedras has had a long journey from Lavender Hill, through working as a grasscutter with ex-convicts at the Simon's Town naval base to being a great scholar. And his thesis on Patterns in diversity, abundance, distribution and community structure of copepods in the southwest Indian Ocean will tell us all we need to know about copepods - those tiny aquatic critters that form the basis of open ocean food chains, feeding the fish that feed us.