Amarjit Raju's commendation video transcript

Amarjit Raju

STEPHEN SMITH: Now we've come to our Honorary Award. These are awarded by the University in recognition of somebody who has made a very significant contribution in their particular field. I now have great pleasure inviting Professor Keith McLay, Provost, Learning and Teaching, to give the commendation for the conferment of the Honorary Degree of Doctor of the University to Amo Raju.

PROFESSOR KEITH MCLAY: Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Pro-Chancellor, Vice-Lord Lieutenant, High Sheriff, honoured guests, graduands of 2022 and all our guests here today. It gives me great pleasure to be presenting today Amarjit Raju for the Award of Honorary Doctor of the University. 

For nearly three decades, Amo has served the community of Derby and beyond in many ways. In his primary role as CEO of the charity Disability Direct, he has spearheaded the organisation to become the recognized voice of disabled people and their carers in the region. As a disabled person from birth, Amo has faced countless personal battles throughout his own journey and has challenged and overcome low expectations of professionals who could not see the potential of disabled people. 

Amo has directly and personally raised more than £25 million in grants, contracts, and self-generated income for the disabled community, and he was a leading light during the pandemic. Amo is now a nationally recognized sector leader on issues around the voluntary sector, disability and social care. On International Day of Disabled Persons in 2021, he was featured on the front page of the 'Disability Review Magazine' and is to become a regular columnist in future editions. 

In early 2021, Amo was recognized as being one of the most influential disabled people in the UK by The Shaw Trust with his entry onto the Disability Power 100 list; and in February 2022 he won the award for Outstanding 3rd Sector Achievement at the UK's first ever British Sikh Awards. Such recognition from the Sikh community has encouraged his objective to inspire future generations to work in voluntary sector organisations. 

Last year, Amo published his book 'Walk Like a Man' which is based on real life events in his journey from an unskilled, disheartened and unemployed individual, to the inspiration he is today. The book reflects on the battle against societal norms as a disabled man to make his place in the world and highlights the obstacles and assumptions Amo has overcome to make a real difference to the community around them. 

In a previous life, Amo had success as a singer in a Bhangra music industry, securing a few record deals along the way. Although he gave up his singing career, Amo is certainly open to finding time in the studio again in the future. 

Amo is joined today by his mother, Satya; father, Parkash; wife, Amo; children, Sangeeta, Geeta, Kash and their partners, Manjit and Raj. 

Chancellor, in recognition of his commitment and contribution to the voluntary sector and the disabled community in Derby, we are delighted to award Amarjit Raju the award of Honorary Doctor of the University.

AMO RAJU: Bear with me, get my glasses out. Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Pro-Chancellor, Vice-Lord Lieutenant, High Sheriff, honoured guests graduands of 2022 and all our guests here today.  

Well today is, without a doubt, one of the greatest days of my life and I am incredibly grateful to the University of Derby for boosting my what was already described as a super-inflated ego.

Whilst all the things you heard of me may be true, I would ask for some of those applause to be redirected to my family, my long-suffering family should I say, who tolerate my lack of attention to what is going on in the room instead of focusing on what's actually happening outside, to my peers, disabled people. 

My story: I didn't acquire this impairment, I was born with it and so I know no other life, no other  way of being. I just grew up watching everyone around me do things that I couldn't do. On too many occasions people would only suggest hobbies activities or career choices which suited their own expectations rather than my own vision and my need. And the thing is the last thing you should say to someone in my situation is you shouldn't do this, you're not able to do that, or you mustn't cross the line because that's just the way things are. All that happens is someone like me will have no option to not only cross that line, but to remove it all together for future generations.  

In 1985 at the beginning of a talent contest at Derby College, a fellow student suggested I shouldn't enter because of my 'health condition'. I entered and I sang on stage to a few hundred crazy students who didn't see any health condition, just a wannabe pop star who was having the time of his life on stage. Over the following 37 years I had two record deals, a hit Bhangra song and only a few days ago I heard my track being played on the BBC Asian network, whilst driving home from work. This is the bit where you get your phones out and start to google me.

In 1993 at the age of 24, I was assessed by a professional to spend the rest of my days in a day centre, basket weaving or making bird tables. I walked out within a couple of hours, that experience had a profound effect on me. Years later I signed a contract with Derby City Council to take over that very day centre which I rebranded, modernised and totally changed into a life-skills centre. In fact, I’m delighted to say that the University of Derby will now be sending their OT students for hands-on experience for working with disabled people. Thank you.

So, for more exciting examples of me challenging the norm, feel free to purchase my book, 'Walk like a Man'; it's available on Amazon. In 1994 I started as a volunteer at a charity in Derby which has only just opened its doors, it's called Disability Direct. It took another disabled person to look beyond my impairment and challenge my own lack of confidence. My old boss, Richard Shaw asked me to channel years of hurt, anger and frustration into helping others. Yes, I was a volunteer, no payment, just a purpose. A belief that working for free will lead to something great for others and hopefully myself too. Within just a few days I no longer experience self-doubt, I've often said this, and believe me it's true; self-doubt destroys more dreams than failure ever will. After a few virtual clips behind the ear, I was ready for work, I became an Information Assistant, then Information Officer, then Services Manager and after Richard decided to move on within four years, I found myself sat in the CEO's chair.  

The other day someone suggested to me I start to wind down now that I will receive an Honorary Doctorate. To the contrary, this award has just simply recharged my battery. Maybe I'll write another book; did I tell you I was an author, by the way? 'Walk Like a Man', available on Amazon. 
Anyway, less about me, more about you. You've all graduated here today from this fine institution with a degree which is proof that you can think, apply logic, reason, and hopefully agree with what you have learned. After hearing what you have learned about me, I ask you to go into your chosen careers and when it comes to disabled people or medieval attitudes towards disability please apply that logic, challenge discrimination and don't walk away from it, reason with ignorance. I hope you're all successful in your careers, however, when possible, share that success with those around you and I'll ask you to go that one step further. If those around you are failing or struggling then soak up some of their pain; if nothing else it will make you a stronger person. Thank you and God bless!

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