PROFESSOR WARREN MANNING: Now we come to our Honorary Award. These are awarded by the University in recognition of somebody who's made a significant contribution in a particular field. I have great pleasure in inviting Mr Russ Langley to give the commendation for the conferment of the honorary degree of Master of the University to Lydia Thompson.
RUSS LANGLEY: Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Pro Chancellor, Lord Lieutenant, Honoured guests, Mayor of Derby, Graduands of 2022 and all our guests here today. It gives me great pleasure to be presenting today Lydia Thompson for the award of Honorary Master of the University.
Lydia is a member of the England Women’s Rugby Union Team. She made her international debut in 2012. At a club level she plays for Premiership team Worcester Warriors Women which she joined in 2010.
Lydia went to school in the West Midlands and began playing rugby at eleven years old. She came to the University of Derby to study Occupational Therapy and graduated in 2013.
In her international debut for England against Spain in the 2012 European Cup, Lydia ran in three tries. She followed that with two tries against Samoa in the 2014 World Cup in France before being ruled out of the tournament through injury. The England team went on to win the World Cup and ended a triumphant year by winning the 2014 Sports Personality Team of the Year award.
Lydia helped England clinch the Grand Slam in the 2017 Six Nations championship and the same year scored five tries in four games at the 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup. She was nominated for World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year before switching to sevens where she won a bronze medal in the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
She returned to 15s for the 2018 Quilter Internationals, scoring a second hat-trick. Though she missed the 2019 Six Nations championship, she returned for the 2019 Super Series in San Diego, featuring in all of England’s matches as they finished as runners-up. Following an injury, she returned for the 2020 Six Nations win over Wales at Twickenham.
Lydia earned her fiftieth cap in England’s autumn international against the USA at Sixways Stadium in Worcester, her hometown club, in November 2021. She now has 53 England caps, has scored tries for England, and this year was part of the winning Six Nations squad for the fifth time.
Lydia’s strong, empathetic, caring leadership skills have been recognised within the England squad and she currently holds the position of a Thorn, one of the off-field leadership roles. She is a huge inspiration both on and off the field.
Lydia is joined today by husband, Tom, parents, Louise and Keith, and sister, Florence.
Chancellor, in recognition of her outstanding international rugby career we are delighted to award Lydia Thompson the honorary degree of Master of the University.
LYDIA THOMPSON: Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Lord Lieutenant, Honoured guests, Mayor of Derby, Graduands of 2022, and all the friends and family sitting here today. Firstly, congratulations to all you graduates. You should be enormously proud of yourselves, what you've achieved and really enjoy today because it does go so fast. I was sitting where you are nine years ago and yeah it doesn't feel like a minute ago that has passed.
When I was sitting there, the job that I do today didn't even exist. There were no women rugby players out there who had professional contracts, so it wasn't really a job I thought I would be able to go on to achieve. But you just never know where your life's gonna take you and I would definitely say don't set limits on yourself, because if you'd asked me then if I'd be standing here today having represented England 53 times, gone to a couple of World Cups, played in a couple of Six Nations games, got into a Commonwealth Games, I would think you were joking. So please, don't limit yourselves. If you get an opportunity, take it.
I began my rugby journey when I was 11. It was just for the love of the sport, there was no pressure on my shoulders, I just loved getting out there with my mates, I really liked eating chips in the clubhouse afterwards. That's changed a lot now, but and I really like that time that I got with my dad where we would analyse the game and he'd tell me what I could do better and he still does that, but I don't appreciate it as much now. But yeah, as I started to progress through that pathway, I put more and more pressure on my shoulders, I was you know quite talented, quite fast, I'm a winger, so I can run, and I can try and get to that try line, but I started feeling like I had to be perfect, I wanted to be the best and I hated, hated making mistakes.
It felt really hard to drop the ball, to miss a tackle and unfortunately that's part of the game, it's part of learning and growing, but I really started to hold back. I've had a lot of self-doubt from kind of putting myself forward and being brave and taking those opportunities. And the things I used to do that had got me selected for England I kind of started overthinking and not doing, so it really hit me when I was training with the squad for the Olympic Games in Rio 2016.
My coach pulled me aside into a meeting room, I can still remember it now, and he dropped me. He said you're no longer part of the Olympic Training team, and you can go home. And yeah, it was a really life-changing moment. There's been many, many operations, and many setbacks but that really hit me because I thought I was trying hard, but I wasn't really being vulnerable, I wasn't really giving myself the opportunity to make mistakes and to fail, but to get back up and learn from them.
So, I was driving home that day from camp, it's quite a few hours in the car to really like sit back and reflect what I wanted to do, I'd done quite well, but did I really want to carry on with rugby, because it really, really hurt being dropped and you kind of hurt when you care, and I really realised I cared a lot about rugby. I cared about the team that I got to play with and the person that I could become and the opportunities it gave me, and I really loved being on a rugby pitch.
I watched the games and I wondered who that person was down on the pitch, but in that moment, I love that freedom, being able to run with the ball, being part of a goal with your teammates, there's no feeling like it. So, I decided I'm going to continue with this path, I'm going to give it my best shot, but I'm going to have to reflect on what I've been doing wrong and kind of ask for help. I had some fantastic people in my life which I asked for help, a physiotherapist, a psychologist, my family, my friends, and they all contributed to the player that I am today. I learned so much more how to deal with challenging thoughts and setbacks, how to look after my body, because I was constantly getting injured. It gave me that opportunity to really reinvent who I wanted to be and also to start being a bit more authentic to me, stop trying to be someone that I'm not, I wasn't that player that I was trying to be for the Olympic Games.
I was myself a bit more in training, I started dropping the ball more because I wanted to have a go and I started making more mistakes, but I learned so much every time I made that mistake. And that kind of propelled me on to the 2017 World Cup final. We had the platforms, I don't know if any of you watched that game, I'd love to say we won but we didn't. There was a couple of moments in that game where I could have hidden, the crowds so loud, you can hardly hear the communication you're getting from your teammates. The New Zealand girls are phenomenal players, and they really play some really good rugby, so we had a really tough game. And a kick ran up in the air, and I caught it, I went for it, it was a hard kick to go for, but I thought I'm gonna have a go at catching this. And then it just opened up and I managed to get over the white line and score a try. I wish we could have finished that with a gold medal, but we got silver.
I was really proud of the kind of the person that I had to evolve to become that, and I would say to you all enjoy that journey, enjoy growing and learning and making lots of mistakes because you never know where that's going to take you. I'd like to finish by just saying I hope you will get to really embrace the next chapter of your lives, be vulnerable and make and take the opportunity you get given, learn from the inevitable setbacks we all experience and don't see asking for help as a weakness. Be your authentic self and live your life, not someone else's. Good luck and thank you!