Graduating Moments

It was a collection of moments that will stay with me forever.  Seated in Lincoln Cathedral waiting for my daughter to graduate gave me time to reflect on just what was about to happen.  In my previous life as an academic I have graduated lots of students and it always felt like a complete privilege to be part of their moment.  They would come to me and wait for their name to be called and many of them would be trembling.  That  short walk turns them from a student to a graduate and from then on life will never be the same.  The achievement is profound and I could always see the sense of pride in the photos taken after the ceremony.

graduation 040This ceremony was always going to be different as this was all about Molly.  I instinctively knew she wouldn’t be trembling and as she came into view at the side of the stage I recognise this new version of her.  A version that is happier in her skin than ever before and I version that is filled with self belief.  Molly’s journey to university was not typical as her qualifications were gained through, largely, self study.  She was well prepared for her degree studies and quickly established an upper second class profile which she managed to maintain for all three years.  Now graduating with a BSc in Conservation Biology she is ready to start tackling the very real issues of saving endangered species.  This is Molly’s calling and it has always been this way.  So her short walk meant something more than just becoming a graduate.  Her walk signalled that she is ready to play her part and the sense of achievement was thus heightened.  Only a dozen or so students graduated from that course but I watched all of them closely and offered a gentle blessing for each of them.  These are the people that are going to change the world and make it a better place.  These are the people that are going to step up and speak up for creatures that humans have neglected and endangered.  They represent part of the apology for what we have done to creatures from all over the world.

graduation 027

For Molly the future will become a continuation of her passion for field research that serves to illuminate the issues and begins to present the solution.  It would not be possible to be more proud.  It would not be possible to feel more humble.  Immediately after Molly came her lovely man, Scott.  Scott is a communicator both in the spoken and written word and I feel sure that his impact will also be felt widely.  He will be the voice that makes us all sit up and pay attention.  His words will have meaning and his contributions will make a lasting difference.  I was fortunate to sit next to his mother during the ceremony and it was a time well shared.

As they walked down the aisle in the centre of the cathedral we instinctively knew we were witnessing the future.  These science graduates all graduated with degrees that will help them make a difference.  From engineering to conservation; all were valid.

In a world where degrees are common currency the choice of study becomes even more important.  These students all chose wisely and as they streamed out of the darkness of the cathedral building into the light of a beautiful autumn day I just smiled.  It was an honour to share these moments with them and their families.  Graduating is about stepping forward knowing that you have some serious tools in your toolbox that should enable you to live a life you have imagined.  I can hope for nothing more than that for each and every one of them.

girls graduating

Molly’s wonderful girlfriends all graduated together and as they all take their first fully fledged steps I was left on the side admiring them.  As young women their impact is potentially unlimited.  They are a new generation of women who seem so mature and connected with their world.  They have remained the best of friends throughout their three years and they should be proud of that.  They have supported each other every step of the way and so they graduated together with beauty shining out of them.

graduation 080

Pete and I met some of Scott’s family on this most special of days and they were all an absolute delight.  His mum, Debbie, and her partner, Fay, spent the most time with me and we shared some laughter and some tears.  I am grateful that Fay remembered the tissues.  I didn’t know these women before today but something tells me that we were destined to meet as we discovered just how much we have in common.  I am taking my job of ensuring Scott is happy on the island very seriously.  He is completely adorable and when I met his family I could see why.   Molly and Scott navigated their way through their day as they always do ensuring that every moment was bottled.  They created  yet more wonderful memories.

grad photo

So, as Molly and all her friends move forward they do so surrounded by much love and admiration.  Molly’s journey will now continue as she takes some time out to decide her next move.  Whatever she decides to do I know it will involve animals and I know it will make a difference.  She is our darling girl and we love her very much.

Congratulations Molly, Scott and the girls!

Much love

Scottish island mum xxxxxxx

The New Student Experience

This weekend sees the beginning of young people leaving their nest and migrating to universities across the country.  It is an exciting time but it also comes with some considerable anxiety.  I went to university many moons ago and then I was incredibly fortunate to have an academic career for over 10 years with the University of Winchester.  Thus I have interviewed thousands of prospective students and guided hundreds through their first semester and onwards.  Beyond that my daughter left the nest in 2011 to study Conservation Biology at the University of Lincoln.  This coming week we are off to Lincoln for her graduation ceremony.

For many years I have had the joy of working with a range of young people applying for university and I had often written about it.  However, I have not taken the time out to write about the experiences I have at the stage when the nest is being emptied a little.  There are, of course, two different sets of experiences – that of the new student and that of the family, especially parents, left behind.  I will try to reflect on both and hope that my commentary is of some use.

mollyLet us start with the new student.  It is something you will have been looking forward to for quite a while and this means you will be excited and that is a delight in itself.  That excitement will carry you through Fresher’s week  where you will spend  time orientating yourself into your new environment and socialising with your new friends.  In my experience first years feed off that excitement for the first month or so but then the vast majority hit a bit of a wall.  This wall is constructed by fatigue and related minor illnesses and a growing feeling that you are missing loved ones back home.  This is a critical time and I used to get dozens of students turn up at my office in tears.  For some students the answer is to go home for the weekend but that might not be possible for all students.  Skype has made a massive difference to the early student experience and I would always encourage students to have as much contact with their family at this time as possible.  It helps to ground you again and move forward knowing that you are very much loved.

Once the new student powers through this stage they often find a new rhythm to their life and things  begins to settle down.  As first assessments become evident the mind is naturally focused and this can only ever be a good thing.  That focus will see you through to your Christmas break when you will be able to recharge and touch base with your roots.  Once the second semester starts many students report that they really feel that they have come along way emotionally and begin to enjoy their first sustained experience of living independently.  Student life continues within this more measured framework until the final year of the course.  This final year is a whole new experience and a  big test for the individual.  Focus has to step up to meet the demands of the final year and social opportunities have to take a step back to allow for the student to achieve what they are capable of achieving.  At the very least the third year makes up for 60% of the final degree classification  so it is clear how important this year is.  There is a huge amount of pressure on graduates to ensure they get a good degree classification and a first or upper second class degree will set them up very well.  I would just stress that relevant work experienced is a growing factor in the student’s profile.  Molly volunteered across five different conservation contexts and I am quite convinced that it is this experience that sets he apart.  Her upper second class degree will play its part as well and, of course, we are very proud parents.

Max, George & Molly on a visit to the stones.

Let us look to the experience of the family, especially the parents, back at the nest.  It is normal to go through some very strong emotions and even though I knew they were coming they still affected me greatly.  I missed Molly the instance we left her at her student halls and for the first few weeks I did pass through some dark times.  That said these dark times were balanced with excitement about all her new experiences and growing pride at how she was handling it all.  Molly couldn’t really pop home to the island from Lincoln so we went to her instead to celebrate her birthday in the November.  That was a watershed time for us as parents because we could see for ourselves how well she was settled and meet her friends.  These friends all remained close throughout the three year experience and they will all be celebrating together later this week.  These friendships have been vital to Molly’s undergraduate experience and I am sure she has made friends that will last a life time.  Once I got used to Molly being away I was absolutely fine and you will be too!  Hearing all Molly’s news was always a delight and I learnt to let her grow in her new situation and did quite well at resisting interfering.  The only challenging times came when she was ill but they were always going to be difficult.  I always told myself that if I was needed I would be there but thankfully her wonderful friends took my place and all was well.

molly and friendsI would just like to say that not all students find themselves on a course that they enjoy.  It is very common for students to want to switch courses and as long as they do that within the first semester it is usually quite straightforward.  If this occurs my advice is to work together to find the right solution and accept that this is part of the process for many students.

So, I hope that these musing and reflections have been of some use.  To parents I would always advise ‘keep busy’ and you will be absolutely fine and to new students I would always advise ‘make friends, sleep and eat well and all will be fine.’  If things are not fine seek out your personal tutor as they will be able to help you considerably.  You are never alone at university and there are lots of people available to help.

brodick castle july 11 051I wish all new students the very best of experiences and I am sending a virtual hug to all the parents of new students out there.  As we prepare for the inevitable tears of joy later in the week and the immense feeling of pride I will keep you all in my thoughts. 

Love to all.

Speak soon.  xx

Falling into Autumn

Goodness me!  I have just spent the last hour updating my schedule and I got to the end of January 2015 without taking breath.  As a freelancer I should be careful not to moan about having a full schedule but I also fear that it is so full that there is little room for manoeuvre should project timelines slip.  I always build a little wriggle room into any forward schedule but I have failed on this instance.

kildonan june 2013 010That all said, do have some truly fascinating projects coming up with a range of talented people and teams.  Perhaps the largest project has not been signed off yet but I am almost certain it will go ahead.  This will involve working with Scottish television for the first time.  Regular readers will  know  that I work with BBC Scotland on a fairly frequent basis and I enjoy that work.  Principally this involves being on a radio panel discussing a range of topical subjects.  The way that Scottish island mum is perceived has always been important to me so I am careful with my media work.  I have turned down far more opportunities than I have taken and I think this will always be the case.  I have also been determined that Scottish island mum remains largely free from product review.  There are lots of blogs out there that dedicate themselves to this type of work but Scottish island mum was not created to fulfil this type of role.  Scottish island mum is a place for musings and reflections and I would say that is where it has remained since its inception in January 2013. 

Santa sparkle 026

Looking beyond my media work my mind wanders into my creative projects.  Pretty much from now onwards Christmas will begin to consume me!  My label ‘With Love from Arran’ is pretty evident in local shops and markets and this year I hope to expand my online presence through my etsy shop.  I am currently sourcing the components that will allow me to sell willow wreath kits online.  I know lots of people would love to have the opportunity to create their own willow Christmas wreath but getting a willow base is almost impossible.  My ambition this year is to allow an affordable kit to be delivered to the homes of these creative people and that  willow wreaths will adorn their front doors during the festive season.  Beyond the kits we will be extending our sales of decorated willow wreaths and festive sewn crafts on and off the island.  Collecting is already underway with bunches of herbs and berries currently drying in our larder.

eigg day 3 010I am completely thrilled at the successful launch of my online course portfolio during this year.  Having completed a pilot in 2013 I went into 2014 with a lot more confidence and I am not sure I have looked back since.  I currently have students completing their final module in a six month long course entitled Meditation through Writing.  I also have a super bunch of people half way through my very first e-retreat that explores the relationship between Place, Space and Identity.  This year I also released a free workshop that introduced meditation and intuitive journaling and had many more students access my courses.  Many of these have booked onto other course as my little community of life students grow.  My free introductory book to meditation published through my ISSU account has been read and downloaded by thousands of people and that, in itself, is very rewarding.  So looking ahead I have two new courses on the horizon.  The first is my current preoccupation as I devise an alternative Christmas experience.  I already have students signed up for this course that begins in October and runs right up until Christmas.  It is my response to a festival that has been somewhat hijacked by commercialism and I am quietly confident in its success…….  The second is a course that runs for the month of January and focuses on the Year Ahead.  I have been blessed to work with a range of creative and dynamic thinkers in recent years and this has delivered an adjusted approach to planning that moves away from artificial scheduling and moves towards an acknowledgement of how our planning should be affected by seasonal changes.  I am currently creating a brand new scheduling document that will form the basis of this course and I may also sell this as a planner in its own right.  We shall see.

Photographed by David Newell.
Photographed by David Newell.


Project Poppy is doing just what I hoped it would do.  It is trundling through the summer and autumn sharing a range of truly memorable creative projects based around the concept of a poppy as a signifier of memorial.  This is Scottish island mum’s way of marking 100 years since the beginning of World War 1 and we are blessed to have so many creative  and talented  people willing to not only get involved but also share their processes and outcomes.  Pop across to the Project Poppy page to see how it is all going.


eco savvy


Beyond my professional work I am continuing to squeeze volunteering for our community shop Eco Savvy into my personal schedule.  Eco Savvy has a really busy few months ahead with its first members meeting (currently sitting at almost 300 people), a skills sharing day and a fashion show and auction evening.  It is such a creative and dynamic project to be part of and I love the work.  I have been deeply committed to voluntary work for some years now both on and off the island.  This work brings together like-minded people and can often create the most supportive of environments.  I am excited about the future of Eco Savvy both on and off the island.  I am hoping to get more involved as the model of operation is clarified and contained in such a way that it can be offered to other communities who strive  towards a more ecologically driven approach to dealing with the issue of ‘waste’.  My time on the Isle of Eigg in 2013 had a profound affect on me and this tiny island has just become the very first sustained island in the world.   The community that underpins all that is Eigg have incredible depth and breath of expertise and experience and their outward focus is to be commended.  As Eco Savvy finds its feet I am sure the same outcomes are within its grasps.  I have been fortunate to work with teams from both Totnes and Winchester in the past and their sustainable credentials are well worth interrogation.  I believe that Arran has an important role to play in the sustainability debate but it needs to find its place.  Exciting Times.

molly and scott

My domestic news is that Molly is staying on the island through the winter and her gorgeous man has joined us.  They now live next door in the cottage and both have jobs on the island.  This is a temporary situation that will allow them both to save lots of money ahead of further study next year or the commencement of a job in the broad area of conservation.  I admire this thinking as it will make their next  step so much easier and I am, of course, completely thrilled to have them here.

Max, George, Pete, Molly & Harry.
Max, George, Pete, Molly & Harry.

Harry is about to start his third level 3 diploma and this time moving into cookery.  He has just about completed his diploma in Sports Nutrition and may well go onto College in Glasgow next year.  George has left full time home school and has moved into distance learning.  His first level 3 diploma is in animal care and I suspect he will then specialise in canine behaviour.  Max remains in full time school.  Both Max and George are well on with their Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award and really enjoying it.

Pete and I both turn 50 this year so we are hoping for a little break away by ourselves towards the end of this month.  We have been married for 23 years  and that, in itself, needs a little celebration.

So I think that is Scottish island mum both up to date and looking forward completed.  I am blessed with a life that is full but incredibly rewarding and surrounded by the most amazing people.   All is well with Scottish island mum and I hope all is well to all of you.

Blessings to you all.

Speak soon. xx