As we celebrate new Honorary Graduates, including Alan Alda and Susan Phillipz, we look back on the reason that they’re such a special way of marking achievement.
Graduations are a time of celebration. They recognise the achievement of years of study and send students out into the world, with all they have learned during their time with the University of Dundee.
They are also a time to recognise individuals who have made a significant mark in their fields through the awarding of Honorary Degrees.
Fifty years ago, the first Honorary Degree, a Doctor of Laws, was presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.
When nominations are sought for the year’s Honorary Graduates, they can be found across the spectrum of achievement from academia and education to fashion design; from sport to architecture; and from all areas of the arts to the broad church of public service. There should be some relevance to the life of the University or the city itself and they should prove an inspiration to the students and that year’s graduates.
Many names on the list of those who have been honoured during the past 50 years will not be immediately familiar today but some definitely will.
For example, among the luminaries joining the Queen Mother as Honorary Graduates in 1967 were NCR executive Nelson Thomas Carne, The Rt Hon The Earl of Dalhousie, historian Ronald Buchanan McCallum, and Major-General Douglas Neil Wimberley, a leading figure in the North African campaign during the Second World War.
Fast forward to 2016 and we can see how times have changed. Dementia rights campaigner Amanda Kopel, Maggie’s Centres co-founder Dr Charles Jencks received awards, alongside names such as Sir William Castell, former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Wellcome Trust and Sir William Patey, a Dundee graduate who went on to become UK Ambassador in Sudan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.
In the intervening years, there were Honorary Degrees bestowed on those who had made a significant contribution to education itself, such as Professor William James Millar Mackenzie who helped to shaped the development of social sciences in universities in the 1950s and 60s and received his award in 1968.
In 1969, Peter Ustinov, who was not only a distinguished actor, but the first Rector of the University in its new status was awarded his Honorary Degree. He served the University until 1974 completing a full two terms.
In the 1970s, Dundee industrialist Lewis Findlay Robertson who had also served at Bletchley Park, received his Honorary Degree in 1971, while poet Sorley Mclean collected his in 1972 and, in 1973, the creator of many iconic images of Dundee the painter James McIntosh Patrick collected his award.
It has to be said that throughout the 1970s and 1980s there were only occasional appearances by women in the awards, but that has changed. In 1982, there were several women honoured. Opera singer Dame Kiri Ti Kanawa received the award, alongside Dame Margaret Kidd, QC , and Joan Macintosh, diplomat and thriller writer. Since then women as varied as Dame Vivienne Westwood and Sheena Wellington have donned the cap and gown.
The awards have also reflected the times, with Polish leader Lech Walesa being recognised in 1984.
Former Rectors Stephen Fry and Lorraine Kelly received their awards, while some Honorary Graduates such as Brian Cox and Mark Beaumont became Rectors at a later stage.
The hundreds of distinguished individuals on the list reflect the breadth of the University’s contribution over the past 50 years.