One of the UK’s most successful athletes and a key business leader committed to supporting the region’s businesses and economy have received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Sunderland during the Winter Academic Awards (December 1-2).

Eleven-time Paralympics Gold Medalist, Baroness Grey-Thompson, who is also the President of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and sits in the House of Lords as an Independent Crossbench Peer, received her Honorary Doctorate of Law today during the graduation ceremony at the Stadium of Light.

Baroness Grey-Thompson said: “It was a lovely ceremony and I’m honoured to receive this award. To be sitting on that stage and looking at the faces of all those graduates’ parents, friends and families faces, who are hugely proud, is a lovely place to be.

“My advice to students setting out on their own career paths is to work hard and make the most of your time. I think formal education is massively important, but it’s also important to learn as much as you can about the world and what’s going on around you and I think your time at university gives you that opportunity. It also gives you a chance to push your own boundaries, meet new people, learn about yourself a bit more, but don’t forget to enjoy yourself as well.”

Acknowledged as one of the most gifted sportswomen of her generation, Baroness Grey-Thompson has competed in five Paralympic Games and won the London Wheelchair Marathon six times between 1992 and 2002. Following retirement from athletics she has played a prominent role in public life, and became Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE in recognition of her services to sport in 2005. In 2010 she was elevated to the House of Lords as a Crossbench Peer and takes an active part in debates, with particular focus on sport, disability, health, welfare, and youth development.

She also helps to coach other wheelchair athletes, along with her husband Ian, and develop better racing chairs, gloves and other equipment. Their protégés include Paralympian Jade Jones from Middlesbrough, and marathon chair-racer Callum Hall from Leeds. And in her parliamentary and wider work, Tanni remains a staunch advocate for the combination of education with sport, and for fitness and exercise.

The University also honoured Colonel The Hon James Ramsbotham, who has been Chief Executive of the North East England Chamber of Commerce for more than a decade. He will be receiving an Honorary Doctorate of Business Administration to celebrate his outstanding career in business and commitment to supporting the region’s economy and businesses.

The Hon James Ramsbotham commented: “I’m really, really proud to receive this Honorary Doctorate, from a University that I’ve worked for, for a long time and have a huge amount of respect for and particularly in a region that I’m so passionate about.

“To be honoured for the work that I think I try and do on a regular basis to promote this great city and the whole region in which it sits, it’s a great day.

“My message to today’s graduates from the region is to use all the phenomenal experience, knowledge and wisdom that you’ve gained at University to the benefit of the North East and really help us to achieve what we can, and to those from further afield – you’ve gained so much by being part of the University of Sunderland, please take that to wherever in the world you go to, but always think favourably and do whatever you can to support this great part of the world.”

James Ramsbotham is leading the North East Chamber of Commerce at an exciting time in its history. Having celebrated 200 years of championing business in the North East in 2015, the Chamber has almost 4,000 members and delivers a range of business support services, especially training and international trade advice.

Previously James was Vice-Chairman of the Esh Group – the award winning North East construction group. Prior to that James spent 14 years in Corporate Banking at Barclays Bank plc, based throughout the UK and latterly as Marketing Director. He had 12 years soldiering in the Royal Green Jackets, throughout the world, and benefitted from executive education at Harvard (USA), INSEAD (France), and Oxford University after graduating from Durham University.

He is Chairman of the Darlington Building Society, Honorary Colonel for The Rifles in the North of England, Chair of Trustees for the Durham Light Infantry Museum, Trustee for The Foundation of Light (SAFC) and a Deputy Lieutenant for County Durham. He also supports a number of charitable organisations. James and his wife, Carolyn, have two adult children and live in the Durham Dales.

Vice-Chancellor Shirley Atkinson said: “We are delighted to be paying tribute to Baroness Grey-Thompson and James Ramsbotham at our Winter Academic Awards Ceremonies.

“Both have all made such a significant impact in their chosen careers and their own journeys to success will no doubt be an incredible inspiration to our graduates who are celebrating their own academic success.”

Close to 600 graduates attended the Winter Academic Awards with over 1,200 of their guests across two days of ceremonies. Families of EU and international students from 68 nationalities around the world, University of Sunderland in London, as well as those of home students in the North East and the wider UK will congregate at the Stadium of Light to celebrate the success of graduates before they move on to begin their career or embark on further study.

In her closing remarks to all of the students graduating this week, Vice-Chancellor Shirley Atkinson concluded: “Universities are significant agents of social change in the world and we are proud that you are and will continue to be our ambassadors in this regard.

“You graduate today not just with a piece of paper, but with an experience, and friendships that will live with you for life. We hope that you take with you, wherever you reach in the world, the belief that you can be a ‘tomorrow maker’.”