“Don’t listen to labels and believe in yourself.”
Actor, dancer, model and passionate Mencap campaigner Sarah Gordy had some inspirational words of wisdom for The University of Nottingham’s newest graduates today (Wednesday 12 December), when she became the first person with Down’s Syndrome to be awarded an honorary degree from a UK university.
Addressing the congregation during the University’s Faculty of Arts Winter Graduation after becoming an honorary Doctor of Laws, Sarah told them: “Mine is an unexpected journey. When I was young, people were worried that maybe I wouldn’t be able to walk. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to talk. Many people, often nice people, thought I would have a very limited life.
“Now, I don’t just speak, I act. I learn scripts by talented writers. I have been on TV, stage & radio. I don’t just speak, I campaign. I’m an ambassador for Mencap and spoke at the UN on World Down’s Syndrome day. And I don’t just walk, I dance. And have toured Europe dancing.
Ability not disability
“If I’d believed all the things that people said I couldn’t do, I wouldn’t have done any of that. And I wouldn’t be standing here now, on this stage, looking out at all of you wonderful graduates. I wouldn’t get to see all of your faces and say “Congratulations”. We made it.
“There may be times in your life when people doubt you. There may be times when you doubt yourself. But don’t listen to doubt. Don’t listen to labels. Believe in yourself. No one knows your potential. No one knows the future. It is ours to make, it is ours to show what we can do.”
Sarah is an exceptional role-model who has built a career around challenging attitudes and preconceptions towards people with learning disabilities through high profile roles in theatre, film and television, including Call the Midwife, Upstairs Downstairs and Strike: The Silkworm.
A campaigner for Mencap, she became the charity’s first official ambassador with a learning disability in 2013. In November this year, Sarah made history as the first woman with Down’s syndrome to be awarded an MBE, recognising her contributions to the arts and people with disabilities.
Helen Laverty, Professional Lead on Learning Disability Nursing in the University of Nottingham’s School of Health Sciences, said: “Today is a very proud day for The University of Nottingham and I want to personally congratulate Sarah on her extremely well-deserved honour.
“To hear Sarah speaking today about the barriers she has overcome in her life on the road to a successful career on the stage and screen was moving, emotional and inspiring in equal measure.
“For those graduates who are at the beginning of their own journey, Sarah is the embodiment of what can be achieved if you believe in yourself, follow your dreams and have the courage and determination to prove others wrong when they tell you that something cannot be done.”
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Notes to editors:
The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our 44,000 students - Nottingham was named both Sports and International University of the Year in the 2019 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, was awarded gold in the TEF 2017 and features in the top 20 of all three major UK rankings. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer, proud of our Athena SWAN silver award, and a key industry partner- locally and globally.