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Speech Rector Magnificus Prof. E. Sterken

Your Grace Archbishop Tutu,

Members of the Board of the University of Groningen,

Members of the Board of Trustees of the University of Groningen,

The Queens Commissioner, Mr. Van den Berg,

The Mayor of the City of Groningen, Mr. Rehwinkel,

The Counselor and First Secretary of the Embassy of South Africa, Ms. Jojosi,

Her Excellency ms. Enin, Ambassador of the Republic of Ghana,

The Rector of the Protestant Theological University, Professor De Lange,

Your Excellency Monseigneur de Korte, Bishop of Groningen and Leeuwarden

The Metropolitan and Patriarchal Vicar for the Archdiocese of the Netherlands of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Monseigneur Polycarpus Aydin,

Mthunzi Gxashe, Son in law of your excellency archbishop Tutu,

Professor Robles, President of the Medical Knowledge Institute,

Dear Students, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my privilege to welcome you at the Academic Meeting of the Council of Deans of the University of Groningen. A special welcome of course to your Grace Desmond Tutu, we feel honored by your presence. A word of welcome is also directed to all students. We have student guests from the Asia Europe Student Forum, more than 40 different nations represented, we have representatives from the Groningen student organisations and we have many students of the University of Groningen Honours College. Together they form an international collection of bright young talent and our university cordially appreciates your presence here.

The University of Groningen is proud to be able to confer a Doctorate Honoris Causa upon Desmond Tutu and I will explain in short the protocol of this Academic Meeting. Today it is September 24th, in South Africa Heritage Day, a day to celebrate cultural heritage and diversity of beliefs and traditions. I would like to express the feeling that our ceremony in Groningen fits perfectly into the celebration in South Africa.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu visits the Netherlands from the 18th to the 25th of September. The President of the Medical Knowledge Institute and good personal friend Professor Harold Robles has invited Desmond Tutu to visit our country in order to support the excellent work of the MKI and the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation. Both the Medical Knowledge Institute and the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation focus on the improvement of the quality of life in southern Africa, in particular by education in health policy and improving health conditions. Dr Tutu is patron and member of the advisory board of the Medical Knowledge Institute.

Before coming to Groningen Doctor Tutu has visited Deventer, the lovely medieval city that Doctor and fellow Nobel Prize winner Albert Schweitzer used to visit, FC Twente in Enschede, and will after Groningen go to Culemborg, Amsterdam, and The Hague. We are so happy that you have found the time to come to Groningen and our beautiful university.

The University of Groningen is founded in 1614 by Ubbo Emmius. The German professor Ubbo Emmius was a true European, a classical broad scientist and an admirer of Desiderius Erasmus. Ubbo Emmius has visited Basle in the sixteenth century to study the work of Erasmus and adopted large parts of his academic inspiration. It is maybe nice to hear that Desiderius Erasmus attended Latin school in the city of Deventer, the city that is linked so much to Albert Schweitzer now! The freedom of thought and respect for differences of opinion are important in Erasmus' work. Ubbo Emmius has used this inspiration in designing our university in its early years. The University of Groningen was a melting pot of different opinions, for instance with respect to religion. And it was a true international university in the early seventeenth century: many students and staff members came from all over Europe and loved the free intellectual spirit here in Groningen.

After almost 400 years the University of Groningen is proud of its early history. The University of Groningen still has the same goals: being a research-led, freethinking international academic institution. An institution proud of its students and professors, an institution that contributes to society, an institution that contributes to long-run scientific development. We act in the spirit of Ubbo Emmius and Desiderius Erasmus. I can say that we also act in the spirit of Albert Schweitzer. We know that Desmond Tutu is an admirer of the work of Albert Schweitzer, as is his colleague and good friend Professor Robles. Dr Tutu is the first recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism: a prize given to people who made exemplary contributions to humanity and the environment.

The core of each research-driven university is the graduate school. The classical doctorate diploma, awarded after completing and defending a dissertation, is the most visible token of academic achievement. Linking the experienced researcher with the young and eager student for at least a couple of years, within the safe walls of the university, is the ultimate model to transfer scientific knowledge from the old to the young generation. Universities are proud of their graduate schools, and that applies most certainly for the University of Groningen.

Within our university the Council of Deans is responsible for granting doctorate certificates. Last year the University of Groningen awarded about 400 PhD students their diploma. In exceptional cases the Board of Deans can award a Doctorate Honoris Causa, an Honorary Doctorate. In the history of our university only at lustrum celebrations Honorary Doctorates have been granted and so today is a real exceptional occasion.

We are extremely proud that the University of Groningen can confer a Doctorate Honoris Causa upon Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. We feel honoured that your Grace Tutu has accepted our formal invitation to visit the University of Groningen and to be present today in this lovely Martini Church, dating back to the fifteenth century. The Martini Church breezes the medieval atmosphere that we like so much and provides a splendid decorum for the important academic session of the Board of Deans today.

Doctor Desmond Tutu, your list of achievements is so impressive that I feel modest to cite a few elements: your work as a religious authority in a country with many opportunities, but also multiple problems, your view on religion in society, your work for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, your work in public health, and there are many more topics I could address. It is better that I rely on the wisdom of your Honorary Promotor Professor George van Kooten to present a Laudatio.

Last modified:13 March 2020 01.49 a.m.
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