Grace Elizabeth Sorrel Clough

Presentation address by Professor Stuart Egginton


In awarding honorary degrees, we pay tribute to individuals from all over the world who are distinguished by achievement and eminence in their respective fields. 

Today we honour one of our own graduates: Grace Clough, a superb athlete and inspirational role model whose global successes as a multiple gold medal winner in rowing are firmly rooted in Yorkshire.

Grace was part of the triumphant mixed coxed fours team which won gold at the Rio 2016 Paralympic games last year. This victory was the culmination of an exceptional period for Grace, for she also secured gold in the same discipline at the World Rowing Championships of 2014 and 2015. Her success was capped when she was made an MBE in 2017 for services to the sport. 

Grace’s achievements are all the more remarkable given that she took up rowing less than four years ago, after graduating from Leeds. Grace had no experience of rowing when she attended a Paralympic open sports day event in her native Sheffield in 2013. Yet her potential was obvious and she was invited to train with the GB Para-rowing team. The encounter changed her life: following successful trials, she became a full-time athlete in 2014.

Grace was born with Erb’s Palsy, a condition in which the nerves of the shoulder are damaged during birth. This did not deter her from pursuing her love for sport growing up, and she excelled at football and basketball, in which she captained Yorkshire.

Grace has also excelled academically and came to the University of Leeds in 2010 to study sociology. Extracurricular interests, including diving, music and captaining the University’s basketball team, were successfully combined with her academic studies and she graduated with a first-class degree in 2013. She is now studying for a Masters degree at Oxford.

Grace has retained strong links to Leeds, the University and Leeds University Union. Last year, for example, she worked with staff and LUU student officers to tell her story during Disability History Month; we are delighted to welcome her back today. 

The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games had countless incredible moments. It is in the spirit, determination and talent of athletes like Grace, who have refused to be held back in the face of greater than normal odds, that we see the truly inspirational.

Vice-Chancellor, I am delighted to present to you, for the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, Grace Elizabeth Sorrel Clough.