James Nesbitt welcomes Graeme McDowell into distinguished group of honorary graduates
Former US Open champion Graeme McDowell said he was delighted to be finally graduating - a decade after dropping out of university to pursue his sporting career.
The Portrush golfer gowned up to join University of Ulster Chancellor and actor James Nesbitt for the ceremony in Coleraine yesterday.
The 31-year-old said he was "thrilled" that his mother had at last seen him graduate.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph after becoming an honorary Doctor of Science, he said: "I never managed to graduate from college - golf took over and I took a leap into the dark side.
"I never thought I'd see the day when I was graduating. I spent a year at Queen's studying mechanical engineering.
"I made that big decision in my life to put academic studies on the back burner even though I was always quite academic - I have three As and one B at A-Level.
"My mum never got the chance to see me graduate and this is the next best thing here today. It is a real honour." He said the honorary degree was a real privilege, particularly as it was being conferred in his own back yard.
"This is up there with my MBE and it's one of the things that I am most proud of in the past 12 months.
"A lot of good things have come my way and this is a very proud moment."
His proud parents Kenny and Marian added: "We are so proud of Graeme. It is fantastic being here today, you couldn't put it into words."
Speaking about his year-long reign as US Open champion, Graeme said he had been nominated for and won "an incredible amount of awards".
He said he was delighted to see his friend and fellow Northern Ireland golfer Rory McIlroy take the US Open trophy this year.
"It is unbelievable that I am handing my mantle 45 minutes down the road to Holywood - this is really big for Northern Ireland, when you look at statistics and the probability of having two in a row winners from here."
Graham was there to witness Rory sweep to victory in Maryland.
"We are pretty good friends, and if it wasn't me that won this year then the next best thing was for Rory to do it," he said.
Chancellor James Nesbitt has just returned from the first phase of filming on Peter Jackson's The Hobbit in New Zealand.
He said he was delighted to welcome Graeme into the distinguished group of honorary graduates at the university.
Mr Nesbitt said: "We cannot overestimate what he has achieved.
"He is someone who had the arrogance to take on the world and beat them, but who has the humility to conduct himself with such dignity. This could not be given to a nicer fellow."