Super Gran

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Helen Hetherington aged 90 (born Jones in Neath, South Wales) collects her degree from Manchester University that in 1943, because of the war she never got to collect. her granddaughter Rachael Hetherington aged 23 also collected her degree in law at the same time.

manchester university degree

© Mark Waugh Manchester Press photographer

Story in the Independent newspaper.

Story in the Manchester Evening News.

Story in the Birmingham Mail.

About Degrees:

An academic degree is a college or university diploma, often associated with a title and sometimes associated with an academic position, which is usually awarded in recognition of the recipient having either satisfactorily completed a prescribed course of study or having conducted a scholarly endeavour deemed worthy of his or her admission to the degree. The most common degrees awarded today are associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Most higher education institutions generally offer certificates and several programs leading to the obtainment of a Master of Advanced Studies, which is predominantly known as a Diplôme d’études supérieures spécialisées under its original French name.

The modern academic system of academic degrees evolved and expanded in the medieval university, spreading everywhere across the globe as the institution did:
“No other European institution has spread over the entire world in the way in which the traditional form of the European university has done. The degrees awarded by European universities – the bachelor’s degree, the licentiate, the master degree, and the doctorate – have been adopted in the most diverse societies throughout the world.”

In most countries, gaining an academic degree entitles the holder to assume distinctive academic dress particular to the awarding institution, identifying the status of the individual wearing them.

Story from the MEN:

A 90-year-old woman has finally graduated 70 years after she gained her degree at the University of Manchester .

Gene Hetherington achieved her BA in Commerce in August 1943 but was unable to attend her ceremony at the university because she was involved in the war effort.

Following her studies she immediately went to work as an auditor in aircraft factories.

A subsequent busy work life as a buyer for the Lewis’s department store and then starting a family meant she did not have time to pick up her accolade.

She finally graduated and the occasion was made more poignant as her granddaughter, Rachel, 23, collected her law degree in the same ceremony at the university’s historic Whitworth Hall.

Mrs Hetherington, from Mere Green, Sutton Coldfield, said: “The ceremony was wonderful and I was so pleased to see my granddaughter Rachel receive her degree, for which she worked so hard.”

Known as Helen Georgine “Gene” Jones in her university days, she said she had not returned to the Manchester area except for a trip to Jodrell Bank 50 years ago.

Shortly after she started her degree, many of her fellow students abandoned their studies to fight overseas in the forces.

She said: “There were a few men to start with but as the war went on they got called up. Eventually, in one subject I was the only student with the lecturer.”

Mrs Hetherington, originally from Neath, South Wales, still remembers the air raids which blighted the city , and the devastation caused by a bomb dropped in Christmas 1940 behind St Gabriel’s church, close to where she stayed.

She said: “When I got back from the holidays, all of the warehouses had been burnt down. All of the windows had been blown out in St Gabriel’s hall of residence.

“When I went up the steps and looked out at the hotel behind the hall of residence, there was nothing left but a big crater. It was thought that there had been 40 people living in the hotel, but they never knew how many had been killed.”

She added: “As students, we had to go down into the cellars when the sirens went because we did not have any proper shelters.

“There were only enough mattresses for one of the three years of students. We only had a mattress to sleep on every third night, whilst on the first and second nights we each slept in a deckchair.”

She left the university to work as an auditor with a chartered accountant for the Ministry of Aircraft Production.

“The minister, Lord Beaverbrook, had set up shadow factories which were able to increase their production levels if the original factory was bombed,” she said. “I believe that the shadow factories had been set up in or around Manchester due to the number of empty mills.”

Speaking at the ceremony, her granddaughter said: “I have enjoyed my time at Manchester and I was very proud to share my graduation ceremony with my grandmother.

“I cannot imagine that many people can claim to have done that.”

Rachel’s father, David, 60, who is widow Mrs Hetherington’s son, said: “I am so proud of my mother. It is incredibly moving to witness her receiving her well-earned degree so many years after she passed it.

“I know how she feels because I too had to wait to attend my own graduation ceremony at Coventry Cathedral in 2009, which was cancelled in 1974 due to the IRA bombings in Coventry and Birmingham.

“My mother does not like any fuss – but since this occasion is so special, I hope that she will not mind a bit of well-deserved attention.

“I am also proud of Rachel, who worked very conscientiously and deserves all of the success that she has achieved.”




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