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Baroness Doreen Lawrence starts the party as she is welcomed as Chancellor of De Montfort University

Baroness Doreen Lawrence of Clarendon led staff and students in a joyful dance at the close of a spectacular event to mark her investiture as the new Chancellor of De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).

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To the strains of Jackie Wilson’s Higher and Higher, the Chancellor brought hundreds of guests to their feet and started a party to mark the occasion. 

DMU had promised a celebration which would acknowledge the gravitas and history of the university but also the excitement and dynamism for which its creative students have become renowned. 

It delivered that, and so much more. 

In between speeches by Vice-Chancellor Professor Dominic Shellard, Science Museum Director and DMU Chair of Governors Ian Blatchford and students’ union representative Amie Chapman there were performances by DMU Bollywood Society, DMU Dance and the dance troupe DMU Steppers.

There was also a reading and performance of Maya Angelou’s “And Still I rise” by student Tiffannie Mersades Roberts plus an excerpt  from Nelson Mandela’s “Long Road to Freedom” delivered by lecturer Carlton Howson. Nelson Mandela was awarded Companionship of the university in 1996.

Then, soon after the robing of Baroness Lawrence – which was followed by a three minute standing ovation from an audience of 600 students, staff and guests - the music and dancing began. 

Professor Shellard said: “I don’t know where to begin; just look at everyone’s reaction right now. Today has been about everything we love here at DMU: passion, sincerity and joy. 

“This is the most important day that I’ve had at DMU since I became Vice-Chancellor. Baroness Doreen Lawrence embodies empathy, love and respect. I think she will be quite a presence on the campus.”

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During Baroness Lawrence’s acceptance speech she said: “My work in the last two decades has been about ensuring future generations of people enjoy the opportunities denied to my son. 

“I have seen that education for good is in the very fabric of life at DMU so I am not simply honoured but very grateful to be your Chancellor.” 

Baroness Lawrence had spent Friday morning meeting students at DMU, with visits to the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Faculty of Business and Law, Faculty of Technology and the Faculty of Art, Design and Humanities.

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Five students were given the opportunity to chat with Baroness Lawrence over lunch after winning a competition. 

Kieza Silveira Da Sousa, MA Design Management and Entrepreneurship, was one of the winners and has been involved in the Stephen Lawrence Project. 

He said: “I'm really pleased that Doreen Lawrence is becoming the Chancellor today. She embodies perseverance, persistence and hard work. 

“To have her as Chancellor after the work she has done shows that anyone can succeed in whatever they want no matter what challenges they face. Being involved with the Stephen Lawrence Project 'my space, my city, my world'  taught me about architecture and the ways to work in society, inspired me to go out and do more and it opened doors for me. 

“It was a stepping stone to coming to university, as I probably wouldn't have come otherwise.” 

Rio Hayles, a final year student in BA (Joint Hons) Dance and Arts and Festivals Management, added: “Today means a lot to me. Growing up in South East London when the Stephen Lawrence case was going on, I felt like I was a part of that family. 

“Speaking on behalf of myself and my peers, it is an honour to have Doreen Lawrence as Chancellor. She will help inspire people to challenge convention and make changes in their lives. It will be great thing for her to join our family at DMU.”

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The Chancellor is the ceremonial head of the university and, as such, acts as its figurehead and ambassador. Baroness Lawrence was chosen by students and staff for her work to champion issues affecting young people, education and social change.  

Following the death of her son Stephen, she established the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust in 1998. It has supported young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, helping them start careers in architecture, journalism and law.

She has also worked to increase the numbers of students from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds attending university.

Baroness Lawrence was created a Life Peer in 2013. The following year she was named one of the most powerful women in the UK by the BBC.

In the House of Lords, Baroness Lawrence has used her political standing to inspire and empower young people to engage in politics. Last year she was made an Honorary Doctor of Laws by DMU.

Posted on: Friday 22 January 2016

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