The University of Huddersfield’s graduates have been encouraged to follow their dreams by the recipients of honorary doctorates awarded during the July graduation fortnight.

July’s honoraries included broadcaster and Huddersfield alumni Adil Ray OBE, who looked back to his time at the University in the 1990s by saying that it was the whole experience, including what he did outside of lectures, that was just as important as his Business degree.

Also receiving honorary doctorates were Zenebu Hailu Dubale for her outstanding work with refugees in Huddersfield, Graham McKenzie for his contribution to the world-renowned Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and Aonghus Gordon OBE for his charitable work for young people living with disabilities.

Adil Ray OBE

Actor, writer, TV presenter, documentary maker

...graduated from Huddersfield in 1997 and has subsequently written and starred in acclaimed comedy Citizen Khan for the BBC as well as presenting numerous documentaries and Good Morning Britain on ITV

Acting, writing award-winning comedy, holding politicians to account on breakfast TV and making hard-hitting documentaries make Adil a true all-rounder of the modern media landscape. He graduated in Marketing from Huddersfield in 1997 having arrived here through Clearing.

He wrote and starred in the highly-successful BBC sitcom Citizen Khan, appeared in the acclaimed drama Stephen about the murder of Stephen Lawrence, hosts Good Morning Britain on ITV and recently presented the thought-provoking documentary Is Cricket Racist on Channel 4.

This eclectic career had its roots when he attended Huddersfield, when his spell as a DJ at the Student’s Union helped inspire his early career after graduating.

“I truly do believe that dreams can come true. Everything I have done, I believed that I could do it,” Adil says. “I was honest with myself, I worked hard and was disciplined and from that I believe there can only be one outcome – that your dream can come true.

“I’ll ask anyone graduating what their next dream is because they absolutely can do it. My advice is to a small thing every day towards that dream, that could be send an email, apply for a job, just five minutes of your day even on weekends or birthdays. But if you do that every day, it becomes part of yourself, and if you’re honest with yourself then there is only one way and that is that your dream can come true.

“I grew up thinking that if I saw somebody who was a comedian, I thought that I'd like to do that. Doing a documentary? I want to do that.

“I feel ‘Why not?’ If you want to become a footballer, then then try to learn to be a footballer. If you want to be an architect, then do it. Just keep your eyes and ears open and go for it and really live your dreams.”

Adil Ray reflects on his time as a student in Huddersfield, and tells students that they should follow their dreams.

Graham McKenzie


...has guided and led the world-renowned festival since 2006

Graham McKenzie has been Artistic Director & Chief Executive for the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival since 2006 and an Honorary Research Fellow University of Huddersfield since 2008.

Graham is a curator and writer in the field of experimental and new music. He is Programme Advisor to the Glasgow Jazz Festival and an Associate Member of Centre for Research in New Music at the University of Huddersfield.

He recalled how a visit to the careers adviser at school in Glasgow revealed that he and his fellow pupils were likely to be categorised as likely to end up in the shipyards, armed forces of Barlinnie gaol. As he looked back on his 18 years as HCMF director, he encouraged graduates to follow their passions for their career.

Always dare to dream, always dare to imagine what you might do next. Look at your goals, and what you are currently doing, and ask yourself is what I am doing now helping me get there? If not, then think about what will help you.

"Some artists will say they don’t contact me because they don’t want to bother me, but a festival is only as good as the ideas that artists bring forward.

“It has been a real privilege to be the artistic director of HCMF for the last 18 years, and I thought I’d only do three when I turned up to take the job. I have had such amazing support while in the role from the University, from the Vice-Chancellor’s office to colleagues in the music department, and the festival has worldwide reputation that we keep building upon. It is a wonderful personal honour, and I hope to use it to further the ambitions of the HCMF.”

Graham McKenzie 

Aonghus Gordon OBE


...has distinguished track record of leadership of charities for people with disabilities

Aonghus Gordon has a distinguished track record of development and leadership with several ground-breaking charities that provide high quality environments and opportunities for people with disabilities.

He is the founding Trustee of Ruskin Mill Trust and Ruskin Mill Land Trust, which acquire and restore redundant iconic industrial buildings and transforming them into educational and cultural centres, winning many awards and commendations.

His first experience of teaching young people with ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome did not go well, but a suggestion that he could teach in the outdoors led to some revelatory results.

“It’s a delight to receive this award, which does come as the result of a lot of hard work. My first teaching experience did not go so well as the young people I worked with did not want to learn inside the classroom. I asked to take it outdoors, which I did and then decided to set up my own schools.

“Working outside and being aware of the trees, birds, light and temperature held them and meant they had a relationship with what I call lawful, natural beauty. The young people then told me they did not know this was possible.”

The University partners with Ruskin Mill Trust to deliver a Master’s in Practical Skills Therapeutic Education (PSTE), the idea for which came from Aonghus seeing how young people were stimulated by working with pottery and ironworks in the outdoors.

“The materials and the natural world did not lie to them – they were truthful,” Aonghus adds. “What was powerful was they could see themselves in the object, and they accepted the authority of failure, which is difficult for a young person but they carried on looking to perfect themselves. If you put the world into a practical context, they will aspire to create a degree of perfection.

“PSTE evolved from that and I am very grateful to University of Huddersfield for validating this as a Master’s and I want to thank the University for the amazing support myself and the Trust have received.”

Zenebu Hailu Dubale


...has helped make a vital difference in helping to improve the lives of refugees in Huddersfield

Zenebu Hailu Dubale is a refugee from Ethiopia who has made Huddersfield her home after arriving in 1999. Since 2010, she has been a Trustee and the Chairperson for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in the UK. This national role has included the trustees purchasing a church in Huddersfield which will be used for community worship and wider community activities for people from across the UK.

Zenebu has made a distinctive and outstanding difference to the lives of refugees in the town. Dedicated to building on the benefits that migration brings to the area, she actively creates opportunities to ensure that Huddersfield continues to be a welcoming community.  

Most recently, Zenebu has been part of the rapid response to the war in Ukraine, supporting women and child refugees following their arrival in Kirklees. She was recruited as a local leader as part of the ‘Every Vaccination Matters’ programme to combat COVID-19. She helped with information to dispel fears and delivered culturally sensitive workshops for which she received a Community Champion award.

Zenebu has worked in Huddersfield town centre as a mental health and wellbeing worker for WomenCentre Kirklees, offering peer support for women seeking asylum, refugees and new migrants. She plays a substantial role in helping transform women’s lives and outcomes for their families.


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