Sonata makes University of Leicester graduation history

A University of Leicester porter just a year into her job has made history after becoming the institution’s first female mace bearer at its graduation ceremonies.

Sonata Gudaitiene would normally be spending her working days as part of a team of often-unsung heroes who keep the University’s vast estate and facilities ticking over.

But, on Thursday 18 January, the eyes of hundreds of graduating students and guests were on her, as she led a procession of senior University leaders and academics in to the De Montfort Hall auditorium for the first winter graduation ceremony. Sonata then went on to carry the mace at two more winter ceremonies.

The 52 year old Lithuanian was nominated for the role by her line manager, Andrea Flanagan, after regular mace bearer, Michael Lee, was unable to attend the graduations. 


Sonata Gudaitiene, right, with line manager Andrea Flanagan

And Sonata took the job, which saw her carry a weighty ceremonial mace, in her stride, despite some understandable pre-event nerves.

“When Andrea asked me, a couple of weeks ago, I had to ask if she was sure,” said Sonata. “I love working with Andrea, so because it was her asking, I said okay, I’ll do it.

“I didn’t feel too nervous, but as the days went by, I started to worry a little bit about what I had agreed to do, as it’s such an important role carried out in front of hundreds of people.

“I was more worried about communication problems because English isn’t my first language. Being on stage isn’t as big a deal for me because I was a dancer in school productions, and then, when I was 18, I became a dress maker, I would often be on the catwalk at fashion shows.”

After the first ceremony, Sonata was finally able to relax and savour the moment of being a history maker.

“It was like a natural high leading the procession,” she said. “I’m proud to be the first woman to carry the mace, and I know it means a lot to the University.”

The University’s mace was designed and made by British goldsmith Gerald Benney. It was presented to the University in 1958 from the City of Leicester by the Lord Mayor and City Council of Leicester. It is three feet, eight inches in length and has a rectangular head with rounded edges formed in silver. It was made in sections and then assembled, with the head containing the City’s coat of arms on the reverse of a panel bearing the University arms. It was first used during the visit of HM Queen Elizabeth II on 9 May 1958 to open the new Students’ Union Building.