One of the two cork trees
Window handle in Wivenhoe House
Elaine and Lynsey (Dawson) get an overview of today’s campus
Big Cat in library
Asleep in library
Ivor Crewe conference centre
Just back from my first visit to the University of Essex in a very long time. I left in 1970, and went back at least once, to work with a German professor, but otherwise it’s been around 40 years. And what a joy it was.
Elaine, Gaia, Hania and I arrived last night and stayed in Wivenhoe House, basically the guts of the university when Elaine first arrived in 1965, the university’s second year. But now the House has been converted into a four-star hotel and the Nissen huts that once ranged alongside (the SAS and the Tank Regiment were stationed there during WWII) have long been cleared away.
Today was the graduation ceremony for the School of Biological Sciences, where I had elected to receive my honorary doctorate. In front of an audience of around 1,000, we celebrated the 2014 crop of graduates – and it was wonderful to see their joy (and that of their families) as they emerged full-fledged.
For me it was a case of third time lucky. I had failed to show up for both previous graduation ceremonies, at Essex in 1970 and UCL in 1974, because I have never liked academic robing, and because I each time I did a degree I emerged feeling less qualified (because more aware of the complexity of the subject) than when I went in.
But a wonderful oration from Professor Graham Underwood set the scene, and I enjoyed addressing the audience, which was in great mood. Afterwards, we were guided around the campus by Lynsey Dawson and Gbolahan Faleye, who among other things showed us the new business school building, still emerging, which is apparently set to be the greenest B-school in the country.
What a huge privilege both to receive the honorary degree and to do so in a year when the other honorary ‘graduands’ were: Dr Jan Pinkava (who worked on some of Pixar’s biggest films, and sculpted the Big Cat that we encountered in the library), Dr Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury (the youngest and first ever female speaker of Bangladesh’s supreme legislative body), Dr John Ashdown-Hill (leader of the ‘Looking for Richard’ project, which led to the discovery of the remains of Richard III, to whom I am genetically linked), Martha Lane Fox (co-founder of last minute.com and Chancellor of the Open University), Lord Currie (who served as Chairman of the University’s Council during a critical fund-raising period) and Professor Colin Riordan (who was Vice-Chancellor of the University for five years, before moving to Cardiff University).
I loved the sculpture of George Bernard Shaw in the library, but probably my favourite things of all were the two cork trees beside Wivenhoe House, which General Rebow brought back as cuttings from the Peninsula Wars a very long time ago.