UofG alumni celebrate Tartan Day in New York

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As the world reopens, we are delighted to have the opportunity to connect with our wonderful alumni community. Head of Alumni & Supporter Engagement Emily Howie shares some of her highlights of the last few months.

Our Aberdeen Alumni Club were one of the first groups to get back to in-person gatherings last August and I was delighted when they asked if I would like to attend their afternoon tea at Banchory Lodge. I couldn’t believe that we were all passing round tiered cake stands with baked delights. It was a lovely afternoon even although the rain was pouring down outside.

I particularly look forward to our annual London Burns Supper held at the Caledonian Club in London each January. This year was nerve-wracking as we watched the COVID numbers and government advice to see if the event could go ahead. It did, and it was a fabulous evening with our star alumnus guest speaker, Burns enthusiast Clark McGinn (MA 1983). We even managed some ceilidh dancing but I for one felt slightly out of practice (out of breath) after the lockdown break and I have discovered that I can’t wear high heels anymore.

Emily Howie, pictured far left, enjoying the London Burns Supper

Emily, pictured far left, enjoying the London Burns Supper.

Despite the smooth return to our in-person activity, we know that virtual events add a different, but equally important, element to our programme. Our online Global Burns event in January, which marked the end of a two-year project researching the history of Burns Suppers and mapping these events in the 21st century, was attended by more than 570 from more than 50 countries. Our alumni certainly enjoyed the opportunity to take part online. The chat function was buzzing as people logged in from all over the world, sharing enthusiasm for the topic, the speakers and, for the first time for me anyway, a virtual reality experience. I didn’t expect to end up (virtually) in the Kirk graveyard in thunder and lightning. It was pretty atmospheric. 

The Global Burns event included the unveiling of a specially commissioned piece of artwork by David Mach, which many of our alumni community helped to create by submitting images of their own Burns events in 2021.

The Global Burns event included the unveiling of a specially commissioned piece of artwork by David Mach, which many of our alumni community helped to create by submitting images of their own Burns events in 2021. [Photo: Martin Shields]
Artist David Mach (pictured left) beside his work 'The Flying Haggis' with UofG's Dr Pauline Mackay, a lecturer in Robert Burns Studies.

Likewise we have been overwhelmed by the participation in our World Changing Glasgow Conversations programme. In this series of online events, we're connecting leaders in our community of researchers, partners and alumni to drive change and deliver impact through meaningful debate. Topics have included COVID-19 and the global economy, mental health and suicide prevention, and reparative justice and the role of universities. All of these events are available to watch on our web pages.

Tartan Day is held each April in New York and while I didn’t attend this year, my colleagues Margaret Clift and Clare McTaggart joined a group of alumni taking part in this year’s Tartan Day Parade. They had a fab time. I know from attending events like this in the past that all those attending enjoy the buzz and excitement and are always so proud as alumni to fly the Team UofG flag.

In June we invited donors and special guests to attend a very exciting landmark in the University’s campus development programme, the opening of the Mazumdar-Shaw Advanced Research Centre. Although our naming donors, John Shaw (MA 1970) and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, were unable to attend, it was lovely to hear from John’s brother Alasdair, also an alumnus, along with special guest and Official (curtain) Opener Professor Sir David MacMillan (BSc 1989), Nobel Laureate.

Emily (far left) with UofG Chancellor Dame Katherine Grainger, Scotland’s National Clinical Director Jason Leitch and Emily (far left) with UofG Chancellor Dame Katherine Grainger, Scotland’s National Clinical Director Jason Leitch and Dr Poonam Malik from University of Strathclyde.
Emily (far left) with UofG Chancellor Dame Katherine Grainger (MPhil 2001), Scotland’s National Clinical Director Jason Leitch (BDS 1991, DDS 2004) and Dr Poonam Malik (PhD 2003) from University of Strathclyde.

The winter 2021 graduations in November were the first to go ahead after the pandemic and it was fantastic to see the campus alive with the excitement and anticipation of these special celebrations. I always enjoy manning the Alumni stand in the marquees at graduation. It is lovely to see our new graduates as they come out of the Bute Hall wearing their robes before gathering for photos with their proud families and a glass of fizz. There was certainly lots of chatter this year and maybe just a few tears.

Commemoration Day in June is always an important date in the University calendar. The grass gets cut, the Cloisters get swept and all the robes in their different colours get hung up ready for wearing. As well as creating new honorary graduates, it’s also an opportunity to welcome back our golden jubilee graduates to celebrate 50 years since their graduations. This year we had those from 1972, 1971 and 1970. It was a special day.

One of my proudest event moments this year was also a ‘proud mum moment’ when my youngest child, Rebecca, who is a University Nursery student, was asked to join a group of children from the nursery to present gifts to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge when they visited the University in May to speak to students and staff about mental health initiatives as part of Mental Health Awareness week.

Head of Alumni & Supporter Engagement, Emily Howie and her Daughter Rebecca meet the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge

Looking to the future, we are especially looking forward to welcoming the Class of 2020 and Summer 2021 back in August for their special alumni graduation celebration events. I think these will be emotional events. These cohorts of alumni had a very different University experience to the rest of us, but I know that all of us who work at the University are incredibly proud of the way that they adapted to the remote learning and exams and are excited to see the world-changing roles that they go on to play in their lives.

I also very much hope to get back to China before long. Prior to the pandemic we were holding at least two big events in the country each year and our local association were planning their own smaller events.

Over to you

We know our alumni love hearing from our very own alumni experts and having the chance to visit exciting and unique venues. We are always delighted when alumni offer the chance to hold a ‘behind the scenes’ event at their place of work.

Christine Gervais (MPhil 2001) and Kaylin Weber (MPhil 2003) guided guests through the American galleries at the Museum of Fine Art, Houston, before guests enjoyed refreshments outside. In Boston, Curator Michelle Millar Fisher guided guests around two exhibitions in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, followed by drinks and snacks in a local brasserie.

Similarly, we have been overwhelmed by the responses from our alumni internationally when we ask for volunteers to support the team at recruitment fairs and in-country activity.

Ian Thomson, our Director of International Recruitment & Partnerships and Professor Penny Morris, Dean for Global Engagement, Americas, hosted a relaxed evening of drinks and conversation in Denver on their last recruitment trip. Jo Power, International Recruitment Manager, hosted a group of alumni at the Scottish Universities Reception in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

If you think that you live or work somewhere interesting and would be willing to host a unique experience for a small group of alumni then let us know at alumni.glasgow.ac.uk.

This article was first published June 2022.

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