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US-based, Northern Irish actor and producer Geraldine Hughes has received an Honorary Doctorate from Ulster University in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the Creative Industries.

The doctorate was conferred upon the Belfast born actor by the Chancellor of Ulster University, Dr Colin Davidson, at a celebration ceremony in New York City yesterday evening, 11 October.

On receiving this honour, the highest the University can bestow, Dr Geraldine Hughes said: “This is a very proud moment, those who know me, know I feel very connected to my home place. I’m very much a product of the city of Belfast and I know that Ulster University is a huge part of the fabric of the city and the whole region of Northern Ireland.  

“University can set a path for young people out of disadvantage, it can unlock opportunities and I’ve been very interested to learn how Ulster engages with the communities around its campuses and presents opportunities to those from diverse backgrounds.”

Born in West Belfast in the 1970s, the Gran Torino and Rocky Balboa star grew up in Divis Flats and attended St Louise’s Comprehensive College. She was one of three children handpicked by an American producer at the age of 14 to star in Children of the Crossfire. She later attended the University of California in Los Angeles, graduating with a BA from the School of Theatre, Film and TV.

In the three decades that followed Hughes has received global recognition for her roles in major film productions including Killing Lincoln, Gran Torino and Rocky Balboa, working alongside Hollywood greats from Sylvester Stallone to Clint Eastwood. Over the course of her career Geraldine has been recognised with numerous awards including the Los Angeles Ovation, Garland and Drama Critics Circle Awards.

Throughout her illustrious career Hughes has remined true to her roots, writing, directing and starring in her one woman show – Belfast Blues, a memoir of her life growing up in Belfast during the Troubles for which she earned a Drama League Nomination for Outstanding Performance.

As patron of the Integrated Education Fund, Hughes, along with her husband Conor Allen, established the Lincoln Awards, open to all students attending integrated education colleges in Northern Ireland and who have been accepted for a university of higher education place but are experiencing financial difficulty.

She has also been a strong advocate, mentor and coach to disadvantaged young people wanting to access the arts. She is also a supporter of The Goliath Trust, which addresses educational under achievement in disadvantaged areas of the city.

Speaking at the ceremony Chancellor of Ulster University, Dr Colin Davidson said “It is my immense pleasure to confer this honour on Geraldine today. She is recognised not just for the outstanding contribution she has made to the creative industries but to her dedication to the young people of Northern Ireland through her work in integrated education and The Goliath Trust.” 

Ulster University Vice-Chancellor Paul Bartholomew, who gave the encomium at the ceremony said, “Geraldine has enjoyed a successful and exemplary career in the creative industries while remaining close to her roots. She is a champion of Northern Ireland both in terms of the place and its people and her truly inspirational story makes her an outstanding role model for students at Ulster.”