Over 350 students, alumni and city guests attended the last University of Portsmouth dinner to be hosted by Chancellor Sandi Toksvig on Friday night at the city’s Guildhall.
The formal black tie event was instigated by Sandi when she started her role as Chancellor and her special guest this year was Baroness Shami Chakrabarti.
Sandi said: “When I suggested this event in my first year as Chancellor I had no idea it would grow into such a splendid annual event here in the city’s great Guildhall where we hold our graduations.
“I am so delighted that this formal dinner has become such a highlight of the University year and brings together so many students, alumni and city-wide friends of the University to get together, enjoy each other’s company, and be inspired through an interesting conversation.
“Tonight is extra special because, as well as marking the University’s 25th anniversary, this is my last Chancellor’s Dinner – after a five-year term of office I will be retiring from the post this summer.”
Before introducing her guest, Sandi presented the Chancellor’s Award to the students’ union’s cheerleading club president Whitley Walters for being the most inclusive of all students clubs and societies through the previous year.
Sandi interviewed her friend Shami, a lawyer, shadow cabinet member and Chancellor of the University of Essex, who was formerly the Director of Liberty, the National Council for Civil Liberties, from 2003 to 2016.
When asked what inspired her passion to be a lawyer, Shami said: “When I was little I wanted to be Rumpole of the Bailey or Atticus Finch. But this was only part of what drove me – I had a row with my Dad about the death penalty when I was 12 or 13 and to my shame I was on the wrong side of that argument.
“At the time the Yorkshire Ripper was preying on vulnerable women and playing a cat and mouse game with the police. My Dad pointed out that no criminal justice system in the world would ever be perfect and asked what I would feel like if I was wrongly convicted of a heinous crime and faced with being marched to the scaffold or lethal injection.
“That was the moment he put me in someone else’s shoes and made me think about what it would be like to be wrongly convicted, to go through every appeal, and to be heading for the death penalty.”
Shami also talked about what she believes to be the biggest injustice in the world: “The greatest injustice on the planet is gender injustice. It’s not injustice for women, but for men too. It’s about all those young men who feel suicidal in their teens and their 20s and all those boys who feel pressured to be macho. It’s an enormous injustice that there are two halves of the species who treat each other so differently.”
Vice-Chancellor Professor Graham Galbraith said: “The annual Chancellor’s Dinner is always an excellent evening, which gives people a renewed pride in the University. I am very grateful to Sandi for inaugurating such a marvellous event.”
Sandi’s past guests have included broadcaster John Humphrys, leading human rights lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy QC and former Beirut hostage John McCarthy.
Karen Blackett OBE, Chairwoman of MediaCom, the UK’s largest media agency, and former Portsmouth student has been announced as the University’s new Chancellor. She will take up her appointment in October at the beginning of the new academic year.