The university said in a statement that a standing ovation greeted Dr John Sentamu "who has been a guiding light and figurehead of Cumbria's university since its inception as he accepted its first honorary doctorate" during a ceremony at Carlisle Cathedral.
Dr Sentamu is the first person to wear the distinctive blue and silver doctorate robe that will be worn by those who will receive PhDs and other research awards from the university.
Dr Sentamu, who became the university's chancellor in 2007, has shaken the hands of around 33,000 graduates of Cumbria's university.
Prof Diane Cox, director of research at University of Cumbria, said: "In the last 12 years Dr Sentamu has supported and guided our university through periods of significant change, investment and development.
"He has promoted academic excellence throughout his tenure and endorsed our activities toward achieving research degree awarding powers - successfully attained in March 2019."
Speaking of Dr Sentamu's upcoming retirement starting in June 2020, Prof Cox said: "We pay tribute to the vision, enthusiasm and determination he has shown throughout his life and career - he is an inspirational leader and ambassador for young people as the leaders of today."
The nostalgic Dr Sentamu said: "I feel like a parent watching a child grow. I'm leaving at a time when the finances, the teaching and research, the vision and the mission of the university are now flourishing.
"The vice chancellor has been here for three years and has strengthened considerably the leadership team and sense of university community, members of whom are all determined to act together to make this a university not only for and of the region, but also the UK."
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