Suu Kyi Finally Gets Honorary Degree

By Gregory Katz 21 June 2012

OXFORD, England—It was a long wait, but Aung San Suu Kyi has finally received her honorary degree from Oxford University.

In her acceptance speech, Suu Kyi praised the role Oxford played in helping her see humankind at its best during her long years under house arrest in Burma.

“The most important thing that I learned was respect for all of civilization,” she said, wearing a traditional red academic gown and black hat. “In Oxford I learned to respect all that is best in human civilization. That helped me cope with something that was not quite the best.”

She said “the saddest thing” about Burma is that its young people do not get to have a similar college experience because university life has been “shattered.”

The leader of Myanmar’s opposition was honored Wednesday at the university’s Encaenia ceremony, in which it presents honorary degrees to distinguished people.

Suu Kyi celebrated her 67th birthday on Tuesday, when she met briefly with the Dalai Lama, who is also visiting England. The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader tweeted a photo of the meeting Wednesday morning.

Suu Kyi said the Oxford visit brought back strong memories of her carefree student days.

“I didn’t feel any different from then,” she said, recalling idyllic summer days spent reading outside in Oxford.

Author John le Carre was also honored, and Suu Kyi praised his novels during her speech, saying they helped ward off a sense of isolation while she was unable to travel.

Suu Kyi, who is making her first visits outside of her native country in 24 years, was awarded the honorary doctorate in civil law in 1993 but was unable to collect it.

The ceremony capped an emotional homecoming to Oxford, where Suu Kyi studied philosophy, politics and economics between 1964 and 1967. She lived in Oxford for many years with her late husband, the Tibet scholar Michael Aris, and their sons Alexander and Kim.

Historian Peter Carey, a family friend, said the trip is “partly a walk down memory lane, it’s partly a very powerful homecoming to something that was a third of her life.”

He said her late husband had always been optimistic about the prospect of political change in Burma, officially known as Myanmar, and did not expect his wife to be trapped there for so long.

“He always said to me, ‘Peter it’s not so long now. It’s just around the corner,’” said Carey.

Aris died of cancer in 1999, having been denied a visa to visit his wife in Burma while he was ill.