Model, activist and social campaigner Munroe Bergdorf told how a University of Brighton lecturer saved her life.
Munroe, who regularly appears on TV to comment on race, diversity, gender and LGBT+ issues, was battling severe depression, an eating disorder and had “so much sadness, anger and confusion inside of me” until she received an email from Dr Jessica Moriarty, Principal Lecturer in the University’s School of Humanities.
She was studying English Language and Media at the time, was speaking after being made an Honorary Doctor of Letters at the University’s graduation ceremonies at the Brighton Centre on Tuesday (30 July).
The email asked why she hadn’t been attending lectures and, she said: “it most probably saved my life – I hadn’t been attending lectures because I was extremely ill. I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping.
“I stepped into Jess’s office and I could see her face drop. I was painfully thin.
“I can’t even begin to describe how lost I was at that point. How desperate I was to put into words what was going on inside me to help it make sense.
“From that point on, Jess helped me to start helping myself.
“She encouraged me to own the hurt I was feeling and put it into my work.
“She helped me to develop the skills that I now use every day within my activism, my writing and beyond.
“She helped me to communicate how I have felt, how I feel and allowed me to connect with how others may be feeling.
“If it wasn’t for those meetings in Jess’s office. If it wasn’t for the kindness, understanding and patience that she showed me when I needed it. I probably wouldn’t be here today.
“So I would like to dedicate this doctorate to Jess, for being the most incredible role model I could ever wished for (she’s probably crying now and I’m definitely going to cry soon) and giving me your time and understanding in some seriously dark times.”
Munroe, who received her award for her major contributions to transgender issues, was assigned as a male when she was born but was never comfortable with her gender and described her adolescence as challenging.
She came to the University and after graduating in 2008 she pursued a career in fashion and modelling, using this as a platform to speak out on a range of issues.
Munroe has spoken at Oxford, Cambridge and Princeton universities and she writes for publications including the Evening Standard and The Guardian. She was named Cosmopolitan’s Changemaker of the Year in 2018.
She advised graduates: “As you go out into the world be ambitious, yes, but also be kind, be understanding, be patient.
“Because every single one of us are going through or will go through something where we need someone to believe in us when we don’t believe in ourselves.
“Be that person to help someone else fly when their wings feel heavy.”
Dr Moriarty said she was emotionally “blown away” by Munroe and desicribed her as a great inspiration: “It was such a generous and kind thing that she did, to say those amazing words about me. She was an extraordinary student. She did have a difficult time and the way she dealt with the challenges she faced - her creativity, her innovation, her ability to take on difficult subjects and challenge them, the way that she dealt with the haranguing in the media as well - it’s just extraordinary.”