Aung San Suu Kyi receives honorary degree

Aung San Suu Kyi  received an honorary degree from the University of Oxford on 20 June 2012, along with seven leading figures from the worlds of science, the arts, intelligence and business, and in an exclusive video clip, she says: ‘I started getting emotional as I walked into the Sheldonian.’ 

In a break with tradition, she was invited to address the ceremony at the end, and in her speech she said that 'the most important thing for me about Oxford was not what I learnt there in terms of set texts and set books we had to read, but in terms of a respect for the best in human civilisation.'

In the exclusive video, fellow honorand John le Carré, novelist, says 'it was magic', and fellow honorand Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, former Director General of the Security Service, says 'I don't think there was a dry eye in the house.'

The other seven honorands were Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, former Director General of the Security Service; author David Cornwell (aka John le Carré); the President of Harvard University, Professor Drew Faust; Sir Howard Stringer, Chairman of Sony Corporation; Professor Charles Taylor, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at McGill University; Dr Henry Barnett, former President and Scientific Director of the Robarts Research Institute; and physicist Professor William Phillips of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

They received their awards at Encaenia, the University’s annual ceremony at which honorary degrees are conferred on distinguished men and women and benefactors are commemorated. 

Daw Suu, Chairman of the Burmese National League for Democracy (NLD) and member of the Burmese parliament, was awarded the honorary doctorate in civil law in April 1993, but until now has been unable to receive it in person.

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Professor Andrew Hamilton, said: 'We were honoured to welcome Aung San Suu Kyi back to the University of Oxford, her alma mater, after so many years. She was returning to a city and university that was her home for several formative years; we had the honour of welcoming an alumna who is one of the great figures of the 20th and 21st centuries.'

Daw Suu made reference to the other distinguished figures receiving honours in her speech, noting in particular that 'when I was under house arrest I was ... helped by the books of John le Carré ... they were a journey into the wider world; not the wider world just of other countries, but of thoughts and ideas.'

Daw Suu arrived in Oxford on 19 June 2012, her 67th birthday. She stayed at St Hugh’s, the college where she studied as an undergraduate, where a private party was held for friends and family complete with birthday cake.

On 20 June, the eight honorands and senior members of the university, dressed in academic robes, processed into the Sheldonian Theatre for the ceremony, presided over by the Chancellor, Lord Patten of Barnes.

After all eight honorands had been conferred with their degrees, the Chancellor invited Daw Suu to address the university. Honorands do not usually address the meeting.

Daw Suu read PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) at St Hugh's College from 1964 to 1967.

This year’s other honorands are:

Baroness (Elizabeth Lydia) Manningham-Buller is the former Director General of MI5, the British internal Security Service, a post she occupied from October 2002 until her retirement on 20 April 2007. Degree of Doctor of Civil Law, honoris causa

David John Moore Cornwell, writing as John le Carré, is one of the world’s most celebrated authors whose writing career spans 50 years and 22 novels which have been translated into 36 languages and adapted for film, TV and radio. Degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa

Professor Drew Gilpin Faust, the first woman president of Harvard University, is a historian of the Civil War and the American South, and was the founding Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. Degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa

Sir Howard Stringer is Chairman, President and Chief Executive of the Sony Corporation, a post he has held since 2009. Prior to joining Sony in 1997, he had a distinguished 30-year career as a journalist, producer and executive at CBS Inc. Degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa

Professor Charles Margrave Taylor is a philosopher and Emeritus Professor at McGill University. His writings have covered a range of subjects that include artificial intelligence, language, social behaviour, morality and multiculturalism. Degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa

Dr Henry Joseph Macaulay Barnett is a neurologist whose work on stroke pioneered the use of aspirin for stroke prevention. After serving as Chairman of the Department of Clinical Neurological Sciences at The University of Western Ontario from 1974 to 1984, he co-founded the Robarts Research Institute in 1986 and was named its first Scientific Director. Degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa

Professor William Daniel Phillips is a physicist and Fellow of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, as well as a professor of physics at the University of Maryland, College Park. In 1997 he shared the Nobel Prize for Physics with Steven Chu and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji for his contributions to laser cooling, a technique to slow the movement of gaseous atoms in order to better study them. Degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa