Sonia Cargan, who graduated from the university in 1991 with a BA(Hons) degree in social administration, was last year appointed Chief Diversity Officer for American Express.
Giving a keynote speech at the university’s graduation ceremonies at the Brighton Centre today, she said: “I really implore you to be ambitious. Be ambitious for yourself and for others. Let people know you’re ambitious. Let others know you’re there to support their ambition.”
Sonia, who lives in Brighton, told of her journey and praised her supporters including her mother, husband and children and “the administration of Brighton University who had the open minds to accept a student with less than stellar ‘A’ level results because they knew I could do better.”
She said: “You need people to tell you you’re capable of more than you can possibly imagine, and you need to believe in yourselves. So I say it again, be ambitious.”
Sonia urged fearlessness and recounted her time in Asia when she would often find herself the only woman, the only person of colour, the only ‘Brit’: “Suddenly this amazing adventure became a little bit scary and I had to dig into not the bank of mum and dad but my resilience bank.
“As you move on to your next chapters many of you will have fantastic options and opportunities and some of you will find yourselves in the position of being ‘the only’. And here’s what I want to say to you – your uniqueness is your greatest asset. Don’t let others define your limits, define them for yourselves.
“And if you don’t find yourselves being in the position of ‘the only’ then I have something to ask of you as you head out into the world – I ask you to reach out and include. One of the principles of Brighton University is that of inclusion and you really have a wonderful opportunity to take it out into the world and amplify it. Be mindful of how you can improve the experience of others – it pays dividends for everyone.”
She said pacing was also important: “If you are going to have a positive impact on the world you are going to have to pace yourself.
“For those of you who are runners you’ll know there are times when you go full speed ahead but there are also times when you slow down, catch your breath, take in the scene and just want to get to the end. Pacing yourself is about continuously recalibrating and adjusting when needed. It helps you focus and achieve your goals.
“I, like you, had the privilege of attending this vibrant institution, the University of Brighton. My time here opened my mind to a world of options and opportunities that I could never have imagined.
“As you take your next steps, and architect your future choices, be ambitious, be fearless and inclusive and last but by no means least, pace yourself.”