A terminally ill student from the University of Northampton has had his own private degree graduation ceremony in the hospice where he is being cared for.
Dennis Newlove was surrounded by friends, family and nursing staff as he was presented with his award in a moving ceremony at Northampton’s Cynthia Spencer Hospice on Thursday 15 June.
The 28-year-old enrolled on the Health Studies and Social Care course in 2014, some time after being diagnosed with throat cancer, and battled the disease throughout his three years on campus.
The disease spread to other parts of Dennis’s body, and after being admitted to the hospice this month, the academics from his course decided to organise the private graduation rather than wait for July’s main ceremony.
After receiving his degree certificate, Dennis, who originally comes from Ghana, said: “There cannot be an exact expression to describe how I feel today. Today is the best, and the beginning of the best to come.
“Studying for this degree has been very challenging, considering my health, but the University has proved to me that any challenge can be beaten.”
He went on to pay tribute to staff at the hospice, by saying: “The staff are more than a family. They have shown a lot of competence and passion in everything they do – in fact, I don’t even want to go home.”
Dennis is presented with his award by Senior Lecturer Sindy Banga
Close friend, Leticia Asumang, met Dennis at the Victory Bible Church International in Far Cotton, Northampton, was by his side at the graduation.
She said: “I am not surprised at all that Dennis completed his degree, even though it was tough. His tenacity and his relentless drive is incredible – where he gets it from, I don’t know, it amazes me.
“I have never known a more positive person than Dennis. When I’m down, he lifts me up.
“He is so inspirational, in the way he talks about his faith and his understanding of what life is all about – his attitude seems beyond his young age.”
Hospice matron, Gail Oliver, said: “We’ve had weddings, birthday parties and early Christmas celebrations for our patients, but this is the first graduation at the hospice.
“We had a couple of days’ notice it was happening and everybody pulled out all the stops to organise the ceremony.
“It’s been a very special day, and we all feel privileged to have been a part of it. For Dennis to have achieved his degree is amazing, and is testament to his incredible strength and determination.”
Dennis with Senior Lecturer Sindy Banga
Ward sister, Lorna Mair, added: “All of us have been overwhelmed by the ceremony, it’s been such a happy occasion. Dennis has worked so hard for this, he’s been so strong, he’s simply an amazing man.”
During the ceremony, Dennis, who achieved a 2:1 grade, was presented with a leather-bound copy of his dissertation, which was about his condition.
A quartet of University academics from the Faculty of Health and Society oversaw the official graduation proceedings – Senior Academic Manager, Sue Donnelly, Senior Lecturers Sindy Banga and Monica Catelinet and Lecturer Melinda Spencer.
Dennis with, from left, Lecturer Melinda Spencer, Senior Lecturer Sindy Banga, Senior Academic Manager, Sue Donnelly, and Senior Lecturer Monica Catelinet
A touching speech from Sindy was met with a combination of tears, smiles and laughter.
She told the gathering:
“Throughout his time at the University of Northampton, Dennis has displayed a wide range of highly admirable qualities.
“He has been resilient, patient, determined, strong, positive and optimistic.
“That these qualities have been so apparent is even more exceptional, given that since he has been with us he has been battling with a very serious condition.
“As the demands of the programme increased over time so, unfortunately, did the severity of his illness and its impact on his ability to keep up with his studies.
“However, it is to his credit that he has shown unwavering perseverance in completing his coursework.
“These qualities have been clearly demonstrated when one considers the manner in which he has approached his dissertation.
“His courage and strength of character were clearly evidenced in that he chose to write about the very illness from which he was suffering, and was able to achieve this in a highly professional and objective fashion.
“These aspects of Dennis’ work received particular praise and commendation from the Health Studies’ external examiner.
“We, your tutors, would like to say… that it has been an absolute privilege and pleasure to work with you and get to know you.
“To use your own words, ‘I know it is a very sad and hard situation but I want to try and finish this race for the degree’.
“Dennis, not only have you succeeded in completing your degree in the most exceptional and extraordinary circumstances but, you have achieved a 2:1.
“We are all proud of you, beyond words. Very well done.”
Dennis vowed he was determined to attend graduation on Thursday 20 July.
Dennis with friends, family, University and hospice staff
You can find out more about Cynthia Spencer Hospice on the website.