Former minister Justine Greening credits her success in no small part to the University of Southampton, where she returned this week as one of eight honorary graduates.
Since graduating from Southampton in 1990 with a first class honours degree in Business Economics and Accounting, Justine has become a household name as an MP, tackling some of the biggest projects and challenges facing society.
As Secretary of State for Transport, she oversaw transport arrangements for the 2012 London Olympic Games. As Secretary of State for International Development, she was involved in tackling Ebola in Sierra Leone, and was the UK lead on developing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. As Secretary of State for Education, she launched the Social Mobility Action Plan, and wrote the Early Career Framework for teachers. And, as Minister for Women and Equalities, she launched the Gender Pay Gap tool.
It was back at the University of Southampton, living in Glen Eyre halls of residence and playing for the university squash team, that her career began. She said: "I am hugely privileged to be receiving an honorary doctorate, especially from the university that opened up so many opportunities for me.
"Being at Southampton helped me to develop a way of thinking about, analysing and breaking down problems, and being open to other ideas. Having an open mind is crucial to being able to make the most of yourself and the opportunities that life throws at you."
Social mobility and inclusivity
Justine praised the university’s work on inclusivity in higher education, in particular its active Social Mobility Network and Ignite Your Success, an alumni-funded programme that support to students from underrepresented backgrounds.
"It shows what a Russell Group university can do when it puts social mobility at the centre of its thinking," she said. "Ignite is the sort of programme that would have really helped me as a student. It has genuinely inspired me to support initiatives to get employers connected to students."
She added: "The country is now focused on Levelling Up, but this is something that universities like Southampton have been doing for a long time, and they have a lot of insight to share. Our focus now is on getting employers to put in place the equivalent of access and participation plans for their own opportunities."
Picking up her honorary doctorate in law, Justine shared a couple of final thoughts for this year’s graduates: "Having the ability to always ask yourself ’what am I most passionate about’’ or ’what really drives me’’ can reignite the sense of purpose and ambitions at the end of university life. The big challenge when you leave university is the danger that you lose that sense of curiosity and being open as you are flung into a career. Remember to think back to that excitement and how it felt to have doors open at Southampton - and to have a bigger think about what could lie ahead from time to time."
2023’s honorary graduates
Also receiving an honorary degree from the University of Southampton this year are:
Dr Stephen Duckworth, Doctor of Science
Paralysed from the neck down from a rugby accident when he was a student, Stephen has dedicated his career to disability campaigning, medicine, entrepreneurship and academia. He has campaigned for anti-discrimination legislation, sat on the university’s court and council, and mentored students.
Juliet Fraser, Doctor of Music
Soprano singer Juliet is a founder member of the EXAUDI vocal ensemble and is recognised as one of the foremost interpreters of contemporary music. This year, Juliet is launching VOICEBOX, a training programme for singers wanting to specialise in contemporary performance.
Dr Ewan Kirk, Doctor of Science
Ewan is the founder of Cantab Capital Partners, a science-driven investment management firm, and for over 30 years has led ventures to commercialise, apply and leverage research in both business and philanthropy. He is also a Southampton alumnus, with his PhD in General Relativity.
Dr Margaret Leinen, Doctor of Science
Margaret is the Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Vice-Chancellor for Marine Science at the University of California in San Diego. Her research includes studying ocean carbon cycling and the role of the oceans in Earth’s climate.
Christine McGrath, Fellow
Christine, a senior leader in the NHS who began her career as a nurse, is the inaugural Managing Director of Wessex Health Partners, the region’s Academic Health Science Centre. She has worked at the University Hospital Southampton for almost 20 years.
Dr Gill Rider, Doctor of Science
After leaving the University of Southampton with a PhD in Botany, Gill has spent most of her career in operational and executive management roles at Accenture LLP. She also spent five years as Director General in the Cabinet Office as Head of the Civil Service Capability Group, and was made a CBE in 2011.
Professor Rogier Sanders, Doctor of Science
Rogier is Professor of Virology at the University of Amsterdam and also holds an affiliate faculty position at Weill Medical College at Cornell University, New York City.