“Penetrating mistress of the craft of history, who have advanced learning alike in your books and by your actions, I on my own authority and that of the whole university, admit you to the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.”
With those words, delivered in Latin, Harvard President Drew Faust was awarded an honorary degree by Oxford University in a ceremony marked by traditions four centuries old on a campus at least twice as old as Harvard’s.
The ceremonies, known as the Encaenia from the Greek word for “festival of renewal” and corresponding to the Latin-derived Commencement, span events at several Oxford colleges, with the conferral of degrees in the Sheldonian Theatre, which was the first important commission of a young Christopher Wren, and considered a great feat of design when it was built in the 1660s.
Faust was among eight honorary degree recipients honored in yesterday’s ceremonies; others included neurologist Henry Barnett, author David Cornwall (John Le Carré), and Burmese human rights activist Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. In remarks delivered as part of the ceremony, Aung San Suu Kyi described Burma as at the beginning of a road that will be “built as we go … inch by difficult inch.” She credited the “kind of values” instilled at Oxford as key in her leading the National League for Democracy, and described her years at the university as formative in appreciating differences and her approach to leadership.
In the citation read as Faust was presented her degree, her roots as a Civil War historian were tied to her having been “brought up on those broad acres which gave rise to the Confederate secession,” and she was credited with groundbreaking scholarship in previously unexplored dimensions of the history of the American South. She was described as a “shrewd leader in tough times,” and to the delight of those gathered and the surprise of Faust herself, her dog Clio was mentioned as having been named for the Muse of History.
Faust was joined at the ceremony by Sir Ronald Cohen, a member of Harvard’s Board of Overseers and an alumnus of Exeter College at Oxford. For Cohen, the ceremonies were an opportunity to look both back — he pointed out his old bedroom window on the third floor at Exeter to Faust and her husband, Charles Rosenberg — and forward.
“It is a very exciting day when Oxford and Harvard have an official connection, and I hope these two great institutions can collaborate more in the future. Drew has been honored for her great academic achievements, but it is an additional bonus that she’s also the president of Harvard. As those of who have attended our Commencement at Harvard and attended today’s ceremonies can attest, the two cultures are very close, and it’s very exciting for me, as someone who has studied at both places, to see the two come together.”