Today, the University is holding graduation ceremonies for students of History, Classical Studies, Languages, Film Studies, Philosophy and Social Anthropology. As we celebrate their achievements, we present some more of our past honorary graduates from some of these disciplines:
HELEN MIRREN, DLitt 1999
Renowned British actress Helen Mirren was awarded the degree of Doctor of Letters on 24 June 1999. It was the first honorary degree she had been given, though she has since gone on to receive many more, including two this year. With a career spanning fifty years, and having worked across television, film and theatre, Helen Mirren has achieved some of the highest accolades in her industry, including an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in The Queen in 2007, and numerous BAFTA, Emmy and Golden Globe awards. In 1996 she was offered, but rejected a CBE distinction, however she accepted a DBE in 2003 and thus became a Dame of the British Empire.
Helen Mirren spent much of her early career as a stage actress with the Royal Shakespeare Company, but it was the role of police detective Jane Tennison in the television series Prime Suspect which made her a household name. Known for her versatility, she has tackled quirky roles such as that of Chris Harper, who spearheaded the Women’s Institute nude charity campaign in the 2003 film Calendar Girls, as well as appearing in period dramas such as Gosford Park (2001). Her accomplished performances have seen her become one of the UK’s most respected and well-loved actresses.
JOHN PILGER, LLD 1999
Journalist and documentary film maker John Pilger was awarded the degree of Doctor of Laws in 1999. Born in Australia, Pilger trained with Australian Consolidated Press before moving to Italy and then to Britain, where he became chief foreign correspondent of the Daily Mirror. His work, much of which involved covering wars including in Vietnam, made him the youngest ever winner of the UK’s highest award for journalism, Journalist of the Year in 1967 – an accolade which he would go on to earn again in 1978. Pilger’s unflinching commentary has sometimes caused controversy, but has also cast a spotlight on social and political injustice. His news reports and subsequent documentary about Cambodia in the aftermath of Pol Pot’s reign raised almost $50 million for the people of that country. Pilger’s work continues to promote human rights, and he has authored numerous books as well as producing documentaries and writing regular news columns.
KEN LOACH, DLitt 1981
British television and film director Ken Loach was awarded the degree of Doctor of Letters on 17 October 1981. Throughout his career, which began in the 1960s, Loach’s socially critical directing style has provided a unique window onto British society, and provoked powerful responses from his audience. Cathy Come Home (1966), a television play about homelessness produced for the BBC’s ‘The Wednesday Play’ series, had such an impact that it prompted discussion in Parliament, and led to the formation of national charity Crisis. The critically acclaimed film Kes (1969), based on the novel A Kestrel for a Knave, and telling the story of a working class boy in Yorkshire, remains one of the UK’s best-loved films.
As Professor David Brynmor Thomas said in his laureation address,
His work reveals Mr Loach’s stated desire to clarify the lives of ordinary people and to provide a perspective for working people. His concern with social anomalies, injustices and tragedies is always evident. He is interested in people as social animals, in their relationships with one another and in their interactions with the society to which they belong.”
PROFESSOR LISA JARDINE, DLitt 2007
Historian Lisa Jardine (1944-2015) was Centenary Professor of Renaissance Studies and Director of the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters at Queen Mary University of London. For her contribution as one of Britain’s most prominent intellectual historians, Professor Jardine was awarded the degree of Doctor of Letters on 19 June 2007.
Lisa Jardine was the daughter of mathematician Jacob Bronowski, and like him, she was a true polymath. At University, she studied both Mathematics and English, and she was fluent in eight languages. Her interests crossed all disciplines, and she had a talent for explaining subjects in a way which made them accessible to all, which was evident in both her popularity with her students, and the success of the numerous books she published, on such varied topics as Francis Bacon and Shakespeare to history and feminist theory. In 2009, her book Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland’s Glory, won the prestigious Cundill International Prize in History. She also judged numerous literary competitions, including the Whitbread Prize for fiction and the Man Booker Prize. Professor Jardine was well known for her work on television and radio, as a commentator on a range of subjects from the arts to current affairs, and was a regular contributor to the BBC’s ‘A Point of View’. She died in 2015, at the age of 71, having suffered cancer. In that year, she had been made both a Fellow of the Royal Society and appeared on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, two honours which she was said to have appreciated with equal enthusiasm.
PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY, DLitt 2012
In recognition of his major contribution both to science and society, Professor Noam Chomsky was awarded the degree of Doctor of Letters in 2012. In his laureation address Professor Stephen Reicher from the School of Psychology described him as,
the father of modern linguistics, godfather of the cognitive revolution, social activist, relentless critic of states and individuals who oppress and abuse.”
Chomsky spent his undergraduate and graduate years at the University of Pennsylvania, receiving his PhD in Linguistics in 1955. The same year, he joined the staff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and has worked there ever since. Now Emeritus Professor of Linguistics, over the course of his career Professor Chomsky has influenced an extensive array of disciplines and has authored over 100 books on a diverse range of subjects from politics to mass media, as well as linguistics. One of the most critically engaged scholars of our time, Professor Chomsky’s impact on academia can be demonstrated by the fact that the honorary degree he received from the University of St Andrews was, at the time, the 38th of his career.
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