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Honorary Graduand Orations - Winter 2016

Mr Michael John Harrison: Hon DLitt (11:00am ceremony on Wednesday, 20 January 2016)

Mr Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen

Rock climbers are a daring breed. Speak to the truly committed, and they’ll probably tell you of exotic peaks they’ve scaled. Or detail the air miles that they’ve accrued to follow their interest.

Our guest today climbed for twenty years. And what interested him most? The Himalayas? The Alps?

No. In his own words: “I’m not interested in them. I’m more interested in a dirty old quarry in Lancashire. And, by God, they can be dirty.”

This unconventional, unpredictable perspective has marked our honorary graduate’s singular literary career since the 1960s. We are delighted to welcome Michael Harrison to today’s degree congregation.

Michael was born in 1945 not too far from here, in Rugby. Writing gripped him early, but it wasn’t until the mid-Sixties that Michael’s talent was recognised. After writing a short story for Science Fantasy magazine, Michael began work at New Worlds.

New Worlds was the UK’s leading science-fiction magazine of the time and, by 1968, Michael had become its book editor. Through critiquing the likes of JG Ballard, and working alongside Michael Moorcock, Michael became immersed in the best of fantasy and science-fiction writing.

A string of critical pieces and short stories preceded Michael’s first novel in 1971, the post-apocalyptic The Committed Men. In the same year, he released The Pastel City: an ambitious work which introduced the world to Viriconium. This place, a vividly-depicted land of alien qualities, is one that Michael was frequently drawn back to in his career.

That’s not to say that Michael’s career proceeded on a straightforward path. Indeed, in the mid-1970s, it left a traditional path and took on a more vertical route. Michael’s interest in rock climbing took off and, aside from introducing him to the delights of Lancashire quarries, it gave his literary work a fascinating new perspective.

This thrilling, challenging pursuit directly influenced his award-winning novel, Climbers. It also helped inspire him to combine realism and fantasy in works such as The Course of the Heart and Signs of Life.

A return to science fiction in 2002, and a foreboding rip in space-time, provided him with further acclaim. That rip, which streamed ‘across half the sky, trailing its vast invisible plumes of dark matter’, was the Kefahuchi Tract. This represented the heart of a trilogy that began with Light and ended with Empty Space – more remarkable additions to a distinctive body of work.

Michael's work is held in the highest regard by his peers. ‘A writer’s writer’ some say. Iain Banks praised Light as “a work of – and about – the highest order.” Clive Barker thought Michael to be ‘a blazing original’. We agree with those peers. Such plaudits are all richly deserved for a writer of rare insight.

Warwick is somewhere where people are encouraged to challenge conventions. To work across boundaries to understand more about the world we live in. To be prepared to try a different path from everyone else.

We’re admirers of society’s contrarians. That’s why we’re delighted to recognise the achievements of our honorary graduate today.

Mr Chancellor, in the name of the Senate, I present for admission to the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, Mr Michael Harrison.

This oration was given by Professor Pam Thomas, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for People and Public Engagement

Rev Richard Coles: Hon DLitt (3:00pm ceremony on Wednesday, 20 January 2016)

Mr Chancellor

What makes a national treasure?

In this instance, I’d say it’s ‘everything you wouldn’t expect.’

We have someone with us this afternoon that has taken an unpredictable route towards such a rarefied status.

From pop star to priest.

Broadsheet to broadcast.

Perhaps most improbably, Northamptonshire to Ibiza.

No wonder the public is so enthusiastic to hear our guest’s views on his own personal journey, and on the world around us. It’s the ability to speak about such matters with an authentic and accessible voice that makes us delighted to welcome Reverend Richard Coles to this afternoon’s degree congregation.

Let’s begin by heading back to Northamptonshire. Richard grew up in the town of Kettering and began his studies in Wellingborough, where he was also a choirboy. His education took him near to our University too, during his time at South Warwickshire College of Further Education.

With his experience of singing in a choir, it was inevitable he would find himself pursuing a career…as a pop star. He moved to London in 1980 and bought himself the most obvious signifier of pop stardom possible.

A soprano saxophone.

His unconventional plan worked. Performances with the band Bronski Beat got him noticed by lead singer Jimmy Somerville. Before long, Richard had teamed up with Jimmy to form The Communards. Number One success followed with ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’, best-selling song of 1986 and a beloved classic ever since. Its popularity, along with other single and album success, gave Richard the fame and acclaim he sought.

It was a fleeting fame in one sense. By the late 1980s, The Communards was inactive. Richard decamped to Ibiza and lived the lifestyle expected of a popstar on the party island.

Distress followed excess. Richard returned to the UK and was advised to seek spiritual guidance. He experienced a moment that he described as being like his "chest was constricted by chains and they broke and, all of a sudden, I could breathe." His journey was about to take a profound step in a different direction.

His appreciation of religious architecture, ethos and music was reignited. A theology degree from King’s College London helped affirm his commitment to his faith. He trained for priesthood in West Yorkshire and, in 2005, was ordained.

A new kind of fame was to emerge for Richard. In parallel to his parish responsibilities, which are currently carried out in Finedon, Richard’s broadcasting career has also flourished. Even if he’s been quoted as thinking of his TV and radio work as "showing off", his warm, self-effacing demeanour has made him a cherished performer on programmes such as Radio 4’s Saturday Live.

For someone just "showing off", he has a natural skill in connecting with every kind of people. It’s enabled him to speak authoritatively to the nation on matters of huge importance… as well as matters of endearing mundanity too. He’s proven an artistic inspiration, in the guise of BBC’s award-winning sitcom Rev. There’s little doubt that he also represents an inspiration to those of faith, and to those facing up to equality and diversity inequalities too.

It’s difficult to determine the moment that someone becomes a national treasure. As Richard himself recalled, "someone once told me I was trembling on the brink." By recognising his gift for making a difference to people’s lives, we hope we give our guest a well-deserved, gentle shove into national treasuredom.

Mr Chancellor, in the name of the Senate, I present for admission to the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, Reverend Richard Coles.

This oration was given by Professor Lawrence Young, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Academic Planning and Resources

Professor Margaret Snowling: Hon DSc (11:00am ceremony on Thursday, 21 January 2016)

Mr Chancellor

First smile. First crawl. First words. First steps.

Parents eagerly anticipate each landmark in their children’s development. Of those early landmarks, it’s often the first word that holds the most significance. Whether parents are listening out for cute baby babble, or an uncertain attempt at a ‘mama’ or ‘dada’, children’s speech development will always fascinate.

It can also cause concern, and it can provide challenges. Literacy difficulties also have a significant impact on a child’s life. For those families affected, the research conducted by this distinguished individual is helping to improve matters. I’d like to welcome Professor Margaret Snowling to this morning’s degree congregation.

After spending her teenage years in the Home Counties, Maggie completed her first degree in psychology at Bristol. A doctorate at University College London came next and was later followed by a professional qualification in clinical psychology.

Maggie joined the National Hospital’s College of Speech Sciences in 1989, continuing her path towards becoming a global expert in childhood language. The University of Newcastle upon Tyne followed, where she was appointed Head of the Department of Psychology.

It was at the University of York that Maggie co-directed the Centre for Reading and Language. The Centre was focused on taking basic research on children’s typical and atypical development through to practical application. The work of Maggie’s group led to an improved scientific understanding of the cognitive mechanisms that underlie impairments of reading and language in specific and general learning disorders and has resulted in interventions that genuinely ‘make a difference’. Indeed, the work of Maggie’s group was included in government guidance on the teaching of literacy and supporting pupils with difficulties.

In 2012, Maggie joined the University of Oxford. She became President of St John’s College and continues her research into children’s language and learning. She heads the Centre for Reading and Language at Oxford, where the focus is on understanding the causes of children’s learning difficulties, and then developing the necessary interventions.

The impact of Maggie’s work cannot be underestimated and has been recognised by her Fellowships of both the British Academy and the Academy of Medical Sciences. She was selected as a member of Sir Jim Rose’s Expert Advisory Group, which produced landmark recommendations on dyslexia. Maggie has also directed parallel studies in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and India.

This is a person who’s enjoyed a stellar career in academia, and has deservedly earned a formidable reputation. But it is Maggie’s commitment to supporting children with special needs to fulfil their potential and the impact that this has had on so many families that we particularly recognise today.

For those parents whose experience of a child’s first words has been far from plain sailing or have anguished over their child’s struggle with reading, writing and spelling, today’s honorary graduate has worked tirelessly to make their child’s future happier and more fulfilled.

Mr Chancellor, in the name of the Senate, I present for admission to the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, Professor Margaret Snowling.

This oration was given by Professor Lawrence Young, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Academic Planning and Resources

Mr Brett Wigdortz, OBE: Hon LLD (3:00pm ceremony on Thursday, 21 January 2016)

Mr Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen

Our society faces an educational challenge. This might seem an odd thing to say when numbers of students entering higher education are rising year on year. But to give you a sense of the scale of underlying issues, did you know that about 8 million working age adults have ‘below-functional’ numeracy skills and about 5 million have ‘below-functional’ literacy skills in England. And when we look at the numbers of students from the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods going to university this is just 20% compared to the 60% of young people from the most advantaged areas who progress to degree level in their education.

So what to do? Perhaps create an organisation that could break the link between low family income and weak educational performance? One that would create a policy and practice shift of seismic proportions? That seems like an idea.

It is great pleasure that I present Brett Wigdortz, OBE to you. He is the founder, inspiration and Chief Executive of Teach First, a charity whose achievements in this field have been staggering. And perhaps fitting we honour him today with so many Teach First graduates in the audience.

Teach First is an organisation that embodies many of Warwick’s own values. It demands excellence from the graduate teachers it recruits. It encourages those graduates’ own drive and ambition, as well of that of the pupils that they teach. Above all, it strives to make a difference – in Teach First’s case, it’s to the lives of low-income pupils in the UK by facilitating a better standard of teaching.

Brett grew up in the US and his academic career saw him graduate from the University of Richmond with a degree in Economics and International Studies. He progressed to a Master’s in Economics from the University of Hawaii.

Economics continued to provide a focus for Brett, as he worked as a researcher at the East-West Centre in Honolulu, and as a journalist covering the Asian economic crisis of 1997.

Brett’s first notable step towards becoming a social entrepreneur was made at McKinsey & Company. A year after his appointment to the management consultancy, Brett was transferred to its London office. It is there that inspiration took hold as he worked on a project that sought to improve poor exam results in inner-city London. And so Teach First was created.

Not that this was easy as the title of Brett’s first publication - Success against the Odds – testifies. Brett was 28 years old with no experience of either public policy or teaching. He’d never led anything before, and never managed anyone. Yet, he thought he could put right the class-ridden injustices of the British education system.

And so he has begun to do so. Since 2003, Teach First has recruited nearly 7,000 teachers and serves every region of England and Wales. Its graduates have taught more than 1 million pupils. In 2014, Teach First was deemed the largest graduate recruiter in the UK. Significantly, Teach First has transformed the perception of teaching amongst the UK’s highest-achieving graduates. Those recruits that have stayed as teachers have contributed to schools becoming the highest performers in the country. Of those that do leave teaching, many have gone into influential roles in the wider education system, the government and the third sector.

As commentators on Brett’s book have noted – a simple idea has the power to change lives. Brett Wigdortz is making a difference to those telling educational challenges that we face as a society, and impressively so.

Mr Chancellor, in the name of the Senate, I present for admission to the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, Brett Wigdortz OBE.

This oration was given by Professor Christina Hughes, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning

Professor Gerald Martin: Hon DLitt (11:00am ceremony on Friday, 22 January 2016)

Mr Provost

On 21 April 2014, thousands of people, carrying yellow flowers, waited outside the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City to pay their respects to Gabriel García Márquez, whose coffin lay inside the building. Mexican newspapers took photographs of the crowds, which were syndicated throughout the world. One of these showed a beaming man, dressed in ordinary working clothes, holding a bunch of yellow roses in one hand and a copy of Gerald Martin’s biography, Gabriel García Márquez: Una Vida (A Life) in the other.

Roses for Garcia Marquez

For his work on García Márquez and, more broadly, for a lifetime’s commitment to the study and dissemination of Latin American cultures, we are proud to recognise the achievements of Professor Gerald Martin.

The Mexican photograph offers a striking image of the outreach of a biography that has to date sold well over a quarter of a million copies in more than twenty languages, extraordinary figures in the world of academic publishing for a work of scholarship based on seventeen years research. How a British professor became first the ‘tolerated’ and later the ‘official’ biographer of Latin America’s, and perhaps the world’s, best loved novelist, who was at the same time an intensely private man, is a story that remains to be told.

Some clues might be found in Professor Martin’s career. He was among the first generation of British Latin Americanists that emerged in the 1960s. His first work- sustained throughout his life, in book length studies and in translations - was on the Guatemalan Nobel Prize winning novelist, Miguel Angel Asturias. He read - as they were published - and taught and wrote on the novels of the great Latin American ‘boom’ writers: Carlos Fuentes, Julio Cortázar, Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel García Márquez. He travelled to every country in Latin America. He set up the world’s first undergraduate degree in Latin American Studies at Portsmouth Polytechnic. He became the only English speaking member of the Archive Association of Latin American Literature based in Paris. He wrote a seminal work on twentieth century Latin American fiction, Journeys Through the Labyrinth (1989), a study that García Márquez read (and objected to in part). He taught for fifteen years at one of the most prestigious centres of Latin American Studies in the US, the University of Pittsburgh, as the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Modern Languages. He has an understanding of a continent and its cultures that would allow García Márquez later to feel comfortable enough to quip that ‘every writer should have an English biographer’.

He has been a constant friend to Warwick University. When the late Professor Alistair Hennessy set up the degree in Comparative American Studies in 1974, he took close note of the Portsmouth model. And Professor Martin would be a regular visitor to Warwick, as external examiner, presenting papers, and supporting our cultural activities. I remember his first visit, to attend a seminar given by Mario Vargas Llosa (a Warwick Honorary Graduate) in 1977 and his last visit, in 2014, presenting the work of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, alongside the actor Julie Christie (another Warwick Honorary Graduate).

Always looking for a new challenge, he is currently completing a biography of another colossal figure of Latin American and world literature, the Nobel Prize winning writer Mario Vargas Llosa. Vargas Llosa’s life is as rich and complicated as that of García Márquez, with added surprises occurring on an almost daily basis. Professor Martin will doubtless share this work with us in the future. But today we honour his own remarkable life.

Mr Provost, in the name of the Senate, I present for admission to the Degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, Professor Gerald Martin.

This oration was given by Emeritus Professor John King

Mr Paul Thompson, MBE: Hon LLD (3:00pm ceremony on Friday, 22 January 2016)

Mr Vice-Chancellor

When considering the award of Honorary Degrees, Warwick seeks to honour those individuals who are not only globally pre-eminent in their field but who also reflect the University’s ethos and values: individuals who have raised the bar, innovated, extended the boundaries of their particular areas, and above all, inspired success in others.

In Paul Thompson MBE we have just such an individual.

Rowing is a sport in which Great Britain excels. Indeed, it is one of the few sports in which the nation can justifiably claim to be at the very pinnacle of world competition.

Its international representatives have won gold medals at every Olympic and World Championships since 1984. And, as many here will recall, GB was at the top of the rowing medal table at the London Olympics. Paul has been one of the key individuals behind that success….

…which might seem slightly surprising because he was born in Australia!

Paul graduated from the University of Canberra with a degree in Applied Science in Health Education. He would soon find the opportunity to apply that science, but not before enjoying a sporting career as an athlete in his own right. He became an Australian champion rower at junior, under-23 and senior levels, and as a young oarsman he represented his native country in World Junior and under-23 Championships and at the World Student Games.

However, a bad cycling accident curtailed his progress as an athlete and he turned to coaching: something that was to benefit scores of aspiring young rowers over the coming years. In 1988, Paul accepted a coaching scholarship position at the Australian Institute of Sport, and headed-up the coaching of student rowers selected for a pilot talent-identification scheme.

Later in a senior role with the Institute, he gained increasing recognition for his considerable abilities, and in 1996 he coached a crew which won Australia’s first women’s rowing Olympic gold medal.

Having received the Australian Sports Medal in 2000, he took on a new challenge: he moved to the UK.

At that time, Great Britain’s men’s crews were already at the top of the international tree. However, its women were still striving to reach the same position. It was here that Paul was to have a major personal impact.

He sought to build a rowing infrastructure for that would rival the best anywhere in the world and by 2003, Paul had coached Katherine Grainger and Catherine Bishop to win a gold medal in the women’s pair at the World Rowing Championships in Milan. In 2004, Paul led the coaching team for the women rowers at the Athens Olympics where Great Britain celebrated three medal-winning boats.

This success enabled Paul to develop his role further. After Athens, Paul was promoted to Chief Coach for both Women’s and Men’s Lightweight Crews. He adopted a more strategic approach than had been the case earlier, incorporating a wider pool of athletes, and the coaching and management of other coaches. He introduced a methodical, collegiate approach to the squad programme and ensured there was a strong, scientifically-based support team around them.

His methods proved revolutionary. An excellent 2007 season saw Paul awarded International Rowing Federation Coach of the Year, and the women’s quadruple scull awarded Female Crew of the Year.

And he capped a memorable year by becoming a British Citizen!

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he coached the women’s quadruple scull to a silver medal.

GB’s women were now competing with the best. Only Olympic Gold was missing. Then came London in 2012….

The UK topped the rowing medal table. Paul had been given the responsible for preparing both the women’s crews and the men’s lightweight crews: between them these crews won three gold medals and two silvers. This included the memorable win for Katherine Granger and Anna Watkins in the double scull. Sydney Morning Herald captured the scale of his achievement quite adroitly: if Paul’s athletes had been a country they would have finished 24th on the overall London 2012 all-sports medal tally!

In recognition of this achievement, he was awarded an MBE in the 2013 New Year’s Honours List.

It’s a tribute to Paul that the excitement surrounding Great Britain’s Olympic rowing prospects is so strong today, with just eight months to go before the Rio Olympics. Continuing in his role as Chief Coach of the Women’s and Lightweight Squads, all the indications are of further success.

His commitment to advancing his sport, and to overcoming challenge, is phenomenal. He is an individual who brings out the best in others, whether they are athletes or other aspiring coaches. He is an individual at home in what is perhaps the ultimate of team sports. His career - of which there is surely much more to come - is an inspiration to all, particularly here at Warwick with our strong record of sporting success and our overall desire in every field to keep pushing to be the very best

Mr Vice-Chancellor, in the name of the Senate, I present for admission to the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, Paul Thompson MBE.

This oration was given by Professor Jan Palmowski, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Postgraduate and Transnational Education