James Martin, the Belfast man who became the first actor with Down’s Syndrome to win an Oscar, has been awarded an honorary doctorate from Ulster University for his outstanding contribution to the arts.
He addressed Ulster University’s Class of 2023 on Wednesday with an inspiring message in which he encouraged graduates to “never judge a book by its cover.”
The actor reminded students that he has “fought very hard to achieve the things I do in life”.
Speaking to graduates, he said: “My message to all of you students, never judge a book by its cover, everyone should have a voice, follow your dreams, have fun with your family, laugh lots, and I wish you all the best going forward!”
The celebration ceremony took place on Wednesday at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.
Martin made his big screen debut earlier this year, starring in the short film, ‘An Irish Goodbye,’ which depicts two estranged brothers who come together after their mother’s death – and which went on to take Hollywood by storm.
“I am delighted to be honoured by Ulster University with my Honorary Doctorate. All my mum’s family went to Ulster University, it holds a special place in our hearts,” Martin said.
In March, a video of the entire Oscars audience singing Martin a ‘Happy Birthday’ swept across social media, after the film won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film on the Belfast-born actor’s 31st birthday. It was the only Irish or British short to make the Oscar shortlist.
“It doesn’t matter if you have Down syndrome, as long as you do what you do,” Martin told the BBC following his historic win at the Academy Awards in Beverly Hills.
When Martin was born, his mother Suzanne, and father, U105 presenter Ivan Martin, were told he would probably never speak. Now, his dad jokes that he “never shuts up”.
His father Ivan has credited Martin with never allowing his disability to hold him back.
Martin was surrounded by family as he celebrated the incredible accolade on Wednesday. His mother, Suzanne, a professor of Occupational Therapy at the University, conferred her son’s honour. Prof Martin spoke about her love and admiration for her son as he received his doctorate, stating:
“We are proud of the joy you have brought to this island. You bring your authentic self to every role you have played on our tv and cinema screens.”
She went on to describe ‘An Irish Goodbye’ as possibly “one of the most successful short movies in history”.
“You made me laugh and you made me cry all within 23 minutes of a movie,” said Prof Martin. “Respect my friend,” she told Martin.
“I know you to be a man who treats everyone as equals. Every day of your life you walk in your own shoes as someone who has a learning difficulty, who does their best to live their best life.
“You’re very committed to supporting others.”
“You raise the expectation from all of us,” she said.