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Three visionary artists receive honorary doctorates and inspire the next generation at the RCS summer graduation

A trio of pioneering performing artists shared their life experiences and inspirational advice with graduating students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland today (Thursday 4 July).

Around 300 students graduated across music, drama, dance, production, film and education at Scotland’s national conservatoire, one of the world’s top ten destinations to study the performing and production arts.

Joining them, and receiving honorary doctorates, were:

  • Akram Khan MBE, a dancer and choreographer described as one of the most visionary artists of his generation, whose company is regarded as one of the most innovative in the world.
  • RCS alumnus Ivan Heng, a boundary-breaking actor, director and activist celebrated for a fearless approach to theatre-making and creating a space for diverse voices to be heard.
  • Vashti Bunyan, a celebrated singer-songwriter who achieved a cult following and critical acclaim after her music was rediscovered.

Professor Jeffrey Sharkey, Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said: “Akram Khan, Ivan Heng and Vashti Bunyan are three visionary artists who are being recognised for their exceptional contributions to the world of music, dance and theatre and the unique artistic imprints they have made on arts and culture.

“Their honorary doctorates acknowledge their incredible accomplishments and hope to inspire our graduating students, the next generation of artists, to push the boundaries of creativity.”


Akram Khan is one of the world’s most celebrated and respected dance artists. Acclaimed for his dance language rooted in the ancient Indian dance Kathak, his reputation has been built on the success of imaginative and highly accessible productions including Jungle Book reimagined, Outwitting the Devil, XENOS and Until the Lions.

Previous collaborators include the actress Juliette Binoche, ballerina Sylvie Guillem, singer Kylie Minogue, indie rock band Florence and the Machine, visual artist Anish Kapoor, writer Hanif Kureishi and composers Steve Reich, Nitin Sawhney, Jocelyn Pook and Ben Frost.

Akram said: “I am very honoured and grateful to be receiving an honorary doctorate from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Performing arts conservatoires like RCS are integral, and I am humbled to be here amongst those who like me, value the absolute importance of performing arts education and creativity.”

Watch Akram address the class of 2024

Ivan Heng is celebrated for boundary-breaking theatre work that reflects our contemporary concerns and gives voice to the marginalised. He is a passionate advocate for respect for diversity and freedom of expression.

Ivan, below, told how studying at RCS ‘changed his life’: “It’s profoundly moving to be standing here, not just as an alumnus of this illustrious institution but as someone who, like you, sat in these very seats, brimming with dreams and aspirations.

“Graduates of 2024, armed with your talents, passion, and the lessons learned here at RCS, you have the power to make a difference. Embrace your journey with courage, kindness, and an unwavering belief in your potential. Go out and create the world you envision; be the change you want to see. Congratulations, and may your future be as bright and boundless as your dreams.”

Ivan founded the internationally acclaimed Wild Rice theatre company in 2000. Under his leadership, the company has reached out to an audience of more than a million people and is at the vanguard of creating theatre with a distinctive Singaporean voice.

The company built its iconic theatre in 2019, and its award-winning works have toured worldwide.

Watch Ivan address graduands

Singer-songwriter Vashti Bunyan wanted to bring acoustic music into mainstream pop in the mid-60s. When she didn’t find the success she’d hoped for, she walked away from music completely.  She was rediscovered in 2000 after the re-release of her 1970 album, Just Another Diamond Day, which has become a cult classic.

After a gap of 35 years, her second album Lookaftering, produced by Max Richter, was released to critical acclaim. Vashti then produced and recorded Heartleap in her own studio and has since performed all over the world.

In her speech to students, Vashti, below, said: “I do know how fortunate I am to have been given a second chance in this part of my life.

“To know that you are different, to enjoy that you are different, that is something I wish that I had learned earlier, that I had not taken so long to pick up my guitar again and to find my way.

“This I wish for you, that you don’t give up on dreams like I did, that you do not compare yourselves to others and find yourselves wanting, to know that you are you, and to keep on being you.”

Watch Vashti’s address to graduands