His comments come as the actor, writer, comedian and charitable campaigner is installed as Birmingham City University’s new Chancellor during an official ceremony held at Birmingham Town Hall later. In his inaugural speech as Chancellor of Birmingham City University, Sir Lenny Henry is expected to say: “I grew up with the belief that education was not intended for the likes of me. It wasn’t until I was doing a summer season with Cannon and Ball in 1981 that I was brave enough to embark on my GCSEs. It was tough going, but I got through it.
“I was 46 before I got my first degree with the Open University and, while a comparative latecomer to higher education – whose career hardly relied on securing a BA or an MA after my name – that experience changed my life. It opened my mind to more possibilities, new thinking and different perspectives. Being Chancellor of Birmingham City University is a chance for me to give back, to contribute something to the generation of young people leaving school now and to those people coming back in to education – mature students – who, like me, missed out on the chance when they were younger.”
Today’s installation follows several visits to the campus earlier in the year when the Dudley-born star saw for himself how the University opens doors to the creative arts for young people from a range of backgrounds. Sir Lenny Henry is expected to say later that “exporting the ideas of diversity, equality and creativity is a concept very close to my heart”:
“The Birmingham City University student body is one of the most diverse in the UK, with over forty-five per cent of its students from low income households and forty-eight per cent from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. In fact, from September 2017, Birmingham City University will offer Europe’s first Black Studies degree.
“This institution understands that education is a right, not an accident of birth, and if you’re smart enough, creative enough and hardworking enough, Birmingham City University can provide you with life-changing opportunities, whatever your background.
“Birmingham City University is strongly placed to make a massive contribution to the world through their commitment to diversity, inclusion and the creative arts.”
Over 300 invited guests will be present at Sir Lenny’s installation ceremony, which will see him wearing ceremonial robes as he formally accepts the position of Chancellor.
The evening will feature bespoke performances by staff and students from the University, including jazz tutor Percy Pursglove – who has composed a fanfare – and composition teacher Errollyn Wallen, who will debut ‘Lenny’s Song’.
Furthermore, a specially-commissioned short film titled ‘Transformation’ featuring Sir Lenny will be screened for the first time during the ceremony that marks the beginning of his five year term as Chancellor.
The Chancellor is the ceremonial figurehead of the University and has an important ambassadorial role, working with senior leaders to raise the University’s profile and advance its core values and interests locally, nationally and internationally.