As we reach the end of term and the end of an academic year like no other we have known, I want to thank our staff and students for your extraordinary achievements over the past year. Few could have anticipated that, following the initial lock down in Spring 2020, the whole of the next academic year would be so profoundly disrupted by the pandemic. I know that moving rapidly to delivering most of our education provision on-line, sustaining on-line learning, support and services for students, ensuring that our campuses are COVID safe, and supporting each other through adversity, has been really challenging. We have also had to face personal as well as professional challenges, including school closures, caring for friends and family, coping with personal tragedies and for many of us working out how to work from home in the best way possible. I know this has come at a personal cost and on behalf of the University, I want to acknowledge this and to offer you my thanks. Your commitment and dedication in confronting the challenges that we have faced has been an inspiration to me: we have seen Essex at our best.

I had the opportunity to attend an in-person farewell event on Friday of last week, to thank our Students' Union and especially our SU Sabbatical Officers and wider student leadership team, led by Molly Purcell. Partnership working with our SU has allowed us to better respond to student feedback in delivering an Essex education and student experience in extraordinary times, enabling us, for example, to be one of the few universities to run an in-person Freshers' Fair last Autumn. This is only the second time in a year that I have been able to meet the sabbatical team in person. You have done an absolutely amazing job in the most difficult of circumstances and I want to thank you and the permanent staff of the SU, led by Craig Stephens, for everything that you have achieved this year.

I also want to recognise the commitment and perseverance of our students. Despite the challenges of the year, you have continued to engage with your courses, with levels of student participation even higher over the last year than in 2019. This is testament both to your resilience and to the support you have received from our staff in departments, in professional support services, and from the SU.

As a University community, we have faced numerous other challenges this year, many of which I spoke about recently in the 'All Staff General Meeting' on 15 June. One of these relates to the Reindorf Review and I have written a blog setting out our commitment to our trans and non-binary staff and students to be published today. As a University we have had to address very difficult and complex issues and we have made mistakes and I make a commitment to all our communities to learn from this experience and to do better.

It is very disappointing that as a result of the pandemic, we will not be able to celebrate graduation on our Colchester campus later this month. Graduation ceremonies are the absolute highlight of our academic year, as we come together as a community, along with friends, family and supporters, to show our appreciation to students who are graduating. I am truly sorry that we will not be able to enjoy graduation this summer, but we remain committed to running ceremonies in Academic Year 2021/22 and ensuring - albeit belatedly - that everyone can celebrate their success at a graduation ceremony as soon as we can safely do so. We are also exploring running some ceremonies overseas beyond 2022, to take into account the consequences of postponed ceremonies that would have taken place in 2020 and 2021.

As well as taking this moment to say thank you, I want to encourage you to take time to enjoy some rest and recuperation over the summer, alongside the other commitments that we all have. I hope that with the roll-out of the vaccination programme in the UK and globally, that we can look forward to next year with renewed optimism.

I want to leave with a final word for our Class of 2021 graduates: the journey from student to citizen of the world is not always easy - but you're not alone; we are here to support you. So as alumni please stay in contact with your Essex family. The Generation Essex team remains here for you, providing specialist careers support and resources after your course has ended. So, if you would like some help polishing your c.v., preparing for an interview or assessment centre, or just talking through any issues with a specialist careers advisor, please just get in touch or email We are here to help.