Earlier today, influential musician and social justice campaigner Michael Owuo Jr (a.k.a. Stormzy) praised the “guts, grit and dedication” of students as he was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Exeter in recognition of his outstanding achievements in the field of higher education philanthropy and widening participation.
In his speech to graduates Mr Uwuo said he felt “extremely blessed and grateful” to receive his honorary degree and joked about how pleased he was to be known as a philanthropist and “Dr Mike”.
Professor Lisa Roberts, University of Exeter Vice Chancellor, said: “We are proud to honour Michael for his remarkable contribution to society and extraordinary talent. He is an outstanding musician and wordsmith, and he inspires people to speak openly about their beliefs and fight for their rights. The University of Exeter has put social justice at the heart of its new ten-year strategy which includes opening doors to people from all walks of life into higher education and it was wonderful to hear Michael’s powerful speech today to students and graduates.”
Mr Owuo’s #Merky Books, an imprint within Penguin Random House UK, is dedicated to publishing the best new fiction, non-fiction and poetry. His “Stormzy Scholarship’, an annual studentship to fund black British students to go to the University of Cambridge, has so far supported six Black students through their Cambridge education and last year, saw a very significant expansion with HSBC donating £2 million to support 30 ‘Stormzy Scholars’ over the next three years.
Mr Uwuo’s charity, #Merky Foundation, to which he has pledged £10 million over 10 years, supports organisations, charities and movements that are committed to fighting racial inequality, justice reform and black empowerment within the UK.
In his speech Mr Uwuo said: “The journey I took to get to this moment has been considerably different to yours. You guys have the guts and the grit and the dedication that it takes to study for years and to finish your degree…whereas I got my AS results in my first year of college and said yeah, see you later. I didn’t have the same minerals that you guys have. A year later I took another swing at my A levels at a different college…until I sat down for my English exam in January and walked out after 10 minutes."
“It took a hell of a lot for you to get here today. Your journeys to get to this moment were hard fought. The road you took was not easy. And this is coming from someone who tried to walk that exact same road and failed."
“So from the bottom of my heart I say congratulations, well done and you should all be so proud of yourselves, what you have achieved is incredible. Don’t let anybody downplay it and don’t let anybody undermine it. If you are sat in this room today you are worthy and you are brilliant.”
During his speech Mr Owuo also thanked his mum: “who is sitting there beaming with pride and joy right now because her biggest dream for me was for me to go to university and graduate and then become somebody so this moment is real full circle. And I always say that God has a funny way of bringing you exactly where you were meant to end up”.