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Source: University of Waikato

Completing a PhD is a major achievement, and even more so for someone who had three children and built two houses along the way. So when soon-to-be Dr Sarah Lockwood realised that the in-person graduation ceremonies would be cancelled because of COVID-19, it wasn’t going to stop her from celebrating her achievement.

Sarah submitted her Management Communication PhD in April last year, but because she wanted to graduate in her Tauranga hometown, she held over to graduate in 2020. She sees her PhD as a collective not just her own, and she was looking forward to celebrating with her family, who helped make it possible. She had wondered, however, how her three young children would cope with the formal graduation ceremony.

Fortunately, Sarah’s parents are part of their lockdown bubble, and when they realised graduation was going to be a stay-at-home affair, they swung into collective action. Husband Simon, a teacher, took on the role of Master of Ceremonies, and he and Sarah’s father prepared speeches.

The children’s costume and craft boxes were put to good use to create a graduation cap and gown, and they raided the native bush for a celebratory bouquet. Sarah’s mum baked a cake for post-ceremony refreshments. The final touch, given that physical certificates weren’t available, was the diploma itself, and Sarah’s eldest stepped up to create the perfect acknowledgement of his “Dr Mum”.

All in all, Sarah says the experience was very special, and it was lovely to have her family as part of the preparations for the celebration. She would have loved to have the rest of her family with her, but there was something really lovely about celebrating in her own space.

The smallest guests were slightly noisy audience members, and refused to stay in their seats, but it was a lovely to have something to celebrate in the midst of the lockdown. And not many people can say they had a tiger attend their graduation!

For anyone else thinking about creating their own graduation celebration, Sarah says “make it personal and meaningful – do something that matters to you. Be proud of your achievement, and take the time to celebrate with the friends and family who have helped make it possible.”


Sarah would like to acknowledge her supervisers Professor C. Kay Weaver, Dr Mary Simpson and Professor Debashish Munshi. Her thesis, “Volunteering at the edge of chaos: A case study on the self-organising of younger volunteers during the Rena oil spill crisis” is available in the Research Commons.