Honour for dad delayed 54 years

A graduation ceremony turned into a family celebration yesterday (FRI) after a father joined his daughter on stage to pick up his degree - 54 years late.

A graduation ceremony turned into a family celebration yesterday (FRI) after a father joined his daughter on stage to pick up his degree - 54 years late.

When Bryan Wilkinson should have graduated from Durham University in 1952, the Royal Navy reservist found himself hundreds of miles away doing military service.

But Mr Wilkinson has finally had his day in the spotlight after being invited to graduate alongside his daughter Karen Wilkinson-Bell.

She received her degree yesterday from Durham University's Business School and after staff there heard how her father had missed out, he was invited to join her in the graduation at Durham Cathedral.

Mr Wilkinson, 77, who lives at Saltburn, on Teesside, said: "I came to Durham in 1947, but I was called up to the Navy in 1948. I came back in 1950 and finished my course, but I'd signed up for reservist duty and I was called up. My degree was conferred in absentia but I missed the actual ceremony. They sent me it in the post.

"It was disappointing in a way, but it was just one of those things. I was the first person in my family to go to university and my parents missed out on my graduation - that was probably the biggest disappointment.

"When my daughter said she was going to Durham Business School I told her she was going to a proper university at last.

"I was looking forward to seeing her graduate, but they kept it secret from me until 10 days ago that I would be graduating as well. It was a lovely surprise."

Mr Wilkinson - who did a degree in ancient history, French and modern history - has maintained his link with Durham through the alumni society at St Cuthbert's College.

And for yesterday's ceremony he managed to dig out the gown he should have worn more than half-a-century ago.

Mrs Wilkinson-Bell, 45, who is regional director of the Business in the Community charity at Gateshead, picked up an MBA with a distinction, watched by husband Nigel, mother Margaret and daughters Eve and Honor.

She said: "When I came here to Durham, I thought it would be nice for Dad to see me graduate because it was something he hadn't seen.

"I mentioned it to my dissertation supervisor and a few days later I got a call saying they might be able to confer Dad's degree at the same time I got mine."

Before their ceremony, Mr Wilkinson and his daughter got to meet Durham chancellor Bill Bryson.

He said: "It's a lovely story because they're also incredibly nice people. I'm really pleased that after such a long time, Mr Wilkinson has got his recognition.

"People almost always see Durham as a very special place - it's the only university in the world on a World Heritage Site and the friendliness of the place is also something that keeps people coming back.

"Clearly this family have a real fondness for Durham and that's shown years after Mr Wilkinson left."


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