Alan Cumming joins Open University graduates at Usher Hall

Alan Cumming outside the Usher Hall. Photograph: Andrew O'Brien
Alan Cumming outside the Usher Hall. Photograph: Andrew O'Brien
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ACTOR Alan Cumming joined hundreds of Open University students at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh yesterday for a graduation ceremony which saw the Scot awarded the honour of Doctor of the University.

Also granted honorary degrees were Dr Heather Reid, physicist and meteorologist; Dr Alison Elliot, associate dir­ector at the Centre of Theology and Public Issues and the first female Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland; and Karyn McCluskey, director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit.

Cumming, also an author and activist who was a strong voice in support of Scottish independence during the referendum campaign and has a flat in Edinburgh, where he spends time when not at home in the US, told the 460 graduates and their families that he believed education is “the only thing that can save us”.

He said: “Education is all. Education is the only thing that will save us. It is a right, not a privilege. But sadly, in many parts of the world people are denied it. So you can only imagine how honoured I am today, getting a degree from an institution whose core aim is to give access to education to as many people as possible.”

Cumming – who currently stars in TV series The Good Wife – and Reid were recognised for their exceptional contributions to education and culture, while the awards given to Elliot and McCluskey were a consequence of their outstanding public service.

The Open University makes honorary awards in line with its mission to be open to people, places, methods and ideas, and the promotion of social justice through the development of knowledge and skills.

Cumming, whose mother and his husband, Grant Shaffer, attended the ceremony, told Scotland on Sunday that he had had a long-held admiration for the Open University.

He said: “I remember as a young boy seeing the programmes on television and wondering what they were all about and then I understood that it meant that people who did not have access to education in the same way as some others do could have that access. It is great to be honoured by an institution that has the same belief in education as I do, which is that it is something everyone should have a chance to have.”

He added: “It was so moving today, seeing people of all races and genders and from all walks of life graduating. There is an excitement here that you don’t necessarily see when you see ordinary graduation ceremonies as everyone has had to fit this in around other aspects of their lives – work, children and so on.”

Alison Elliot, who also received the honour of Doctor of the University, said: “I’ve always been impressed by the way the Open University gives people the chance to catch up with the pleasure of studying at different stages in their lives.

“Undertaking academic learning alongside everyday concerns may be tough, but I’m sure it leads to more-rounded students and better understanding of the subjects at hand.

Heather Reid, a former weather presenter for BBC Scotland who was also known as “Heather the Weather”, said she planned to work with the Open University in future.

She added: “It’s a world leader in the delivery of supported, open learning and helps people to update skills, change direction, realise their potential and transform their lives.”