Graduation day which seemed so hard to get to, but never impossible. The first sentence my dad taught me, and I repeat it to my children is 'there is no such word as can't.' It's a powerful value as there is always a solution, there is never a point where you stop, you just find a different way. So I graduate a Dr. but it's because of my Mum and Dad that I am here.
To do the thank you justice I need to rewind to my family history to let you know how big of a deal it is.
A Generation of Change
In not so recent history even in 2017, there are generations that had: no access to education, carried wood on donkeys and even if they were educated did not get the opportunity to explore, discover or excel in their passion; that's my parents. Yes we have entrepreneurial-ship and people can find ways to make their impact; they both did. However, let's not pretend that there are not Mums and Dad's who have done everything for the children to put a roof over their head and send them to school.
My Mum was born on a tiny island called St Helena where she collected firewood by donkey. She came to the UK to be with her Mum (who was illiterate) but actually put her out on the street at 15, and from that age she fended for herself. She gave me so much love, safety, security and support that she herself never had. She did all this between working shifts at a health company, Oxfam and then finally setting up her own business with my Dad. She would go to the butchers in the days of the strikes at the factory, and ask for bones for the dog, and with that she would cook the most amazing healthy soups and casseroles. I look back and I never wanted for anything I actually needed. At Xmas I was so happy with the warmth of the family meal, top of the pops playing and my stocking of clementines, nuts and if I was lucky 1 small toy. We may not have been able to afford much but we had so much love. She gave me what she never had.
My Dad came to the UK when he was 8 from a tiny island in the Caribbean called Anguilla. He studied hard until his A'levels and started work at Rover as a foreman. My Grandad Herman Edwards was an activist (where do I get it from ;)) who opened The Black House, which was a half way house to get young black people (mainly men) socially mobile. I visited the Colin Jones exhibit when it was in London some years ago to find out more myself, and even found John Lennon's involvement. My grandad gave us a large family, there are 14 uncles and aunties that I know of and have visited all over the world (he left my gran and was very popular with the ladies). My Dad was raised by his Mum alone and he has done everything for us. He was the Dad working at 2, 3, 4, 5 am in the morning to keep a roof over our head when interest rates were at 18% and then to put me through university, and my sister through drama school. He was the Dad that appealed to get me into the best school in Oxford. He stood up at the appeal and called out the lack of the diversity at the predominantly white school, and on appeal we got in (I'm an identical twin). He was the Dad who went without on top of his day/night jobs, to pay for extra tuition in English and Maths. He knew that as a black female: education, education, education would give me access and social mobility. He gave me the chance that he did not have.
My friends would say what are you studying now. Whilst I agree university is not everything, there are many ways to get up the mountain, this is great from a point of privilege. When you live in a world where you are at a disadvantage due to the colour of your skin, and I will leave that for another post, education is another gate that can help the path that you choose. When my Dad used to say you will have to work harder than everyone else, you may be smarter than everyone else but you still might not get the job, as a child I didn't really comprehend what he meant. As an adult who has had 17 years career experience of what he said, and a now a Mum, Dad I understand your words of wisdom. I cannot even put into words what you have done for me.
All of those lessons that you taught me, have made me into the person I am today. Even though my mum was chucked out on the street at 15, she still visited her Mum and even took care of her when it mattered. My Mum truly taught me to treat others as you wish to be treated, even when they have not done the same to you. To take that higher road and turn the other cheek.
My Dad gave me that sheer gravitas, and when they both started the business he involved me in everything. I did their accounts from the age of 9. I interacted with customers from an early age and helped with strategic decisions. All of these things set me on the path where I am today. I made mistakes for sure and that was okay, as long as I learnt from them. I was allowed to go clubbing from 14 as long as I completed my responsibilities at home and at school. It makes me laugh now, as I was savvy in making sure that homework and cello practice was done, that I could still serve breakfast to guests and cook the Sunday dinner; after a great night out. I was not raised in a bubble, I was raised to be a strong independent woman who could take responsibility for decisions good or bad; but take risks and make the decision! He taught me to take risks, and I did. I have taken risks my whole life from financial transactions, business ventures and moving abroad living in Switzerland. I have learnt from each one and some have been hugely successful and others failures. Success was not the point, it was the confidence to navigate the facts, make and decision and execute.
Doing my doctorate in my 30's meant my Mum and Dad were not paying, but their support was there. Working and living abroad has it's issues particularly in Switzerland where childcare is more than interesting. They invest 0.2 GDP in childcare so the mother is very much expected to be at home, whilst the kids come home each day for a home cooked lunch and most days finish school at 11:50. So having a full time job meant studying everyday consistently between 20:00 and 23:00 and on the weekends. There were peak times when my parents came over and helped my husband and I with the kids. As grandparents I couldn't ask for more, and their daughter they still gave me exactly what I needed.
Playing it Forward
So when the graduation ceremony application came and I could only have 3 people in the room, I knew in my heart I had to have 5. I wrote back to the university to explain why my parents had to be there, but also why my children had to be there. If I could give my kids just one ounce of what my parents have done for me, and play it forward. I would be a great Mum. Mums raise and inspire the next generation, but we are here because of our parents. So thank you Mum and Dad because of you I graduate a Dr. and am part of a fantastic Alumni here in Switzerland.