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Actor accepts degree with message of ability, not disability

Actor accepts degree with message of ability, not disability
21st December 2018 Ian Streets

An actor, model and passionate campaigner for Mencap hit the headlines when she became the first person with Down’s syndrome to be awarded an honorary degree from a UK university.
Sarah Gordy, who will be known to many for her high-profile roles in theatre, film and television, including Call the Midwife, Upstairs Downstairs and Strike: The Silkworm, used the occasion to deliver an inspirational speech about how she forged a successful career by ignoring all the things people said she couldn’t do.
In awarding Sarah an honorary Doctor of Laws, The University of Nottingham described her as “an exceptional role-model who has built a career around challenging attitudes and preconceptions towards people with learning disabilities”.
Sarah’s full speech from the University’s Faculty of Arts Winter Graduation ceremony can be read on her website at
A summary, released to the wider media by the University, highlighted Sarah’s achievements in becoming Mencap’s first official ambassador with a learning disability in 2013. In November this year, she made history as the first woman with Down’s syndrome to be awarded an MBE, recognising her contributions to the arts and people with disabilities.
She told the congregation: “Mine is an unexpected journey. When I was young, people were worried that maybe I wouldn’t be able to walk. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to talk. Many people, often nice people, thought I would have a very limited life.
“Now, I don’t just speak, I act. I learn scripts by talented writers. I have been on TV, stage and radio. I don’t just speak, I campaign. I’m an ambassador for Mencap and spoke at the UN on World Down’s Syndrome day. And I don’t just walk, I dance. And have toured Europe dancing.
“If I’d believed all the things that people said I couldn’t do, I wouldn’t have done any of that. And I wouldn’t be standing here now, on this stage, looking out at all of you wonderful graduates. I wouldn’t get to see all of your faces and say ‘Congratulations’. We made it.
“There may be times in your life when people doubt you. There may be times when you doubt yourself. But don’t listen to doubt. Don’t listen to labels. Believe in yourself. No one knows your potential. No one knows the future. It is ours to make, it is ours to show what we can do.”
Helen Laverty, Professional Lead on Learning Disability Nursing in the University of Nottingham’s School of Health Sciences, said: “For those graduates who are at the beginning of their own journey, Sarah is the embodiment of what can be achieved if you believe in yourself, follow your dreams and have the courage and determination to prove others wrong when they tell you that something cannot be done.”


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