Bob Geldof takes centre stage at the Honorary Degrees 2017

Posted on: 23 June 2017

Trinity recognised rock star and humanitarian activist Bob Geldof along with four other preeminent individuals for their contribution to society at today’s honorary degree ceremony. The stellar cast, including a world leading scientist, an Irish historian, an environmentalist and leading global medical researcher were awarded Trinity’s highest honour by the Chancellor of the University, Mary Robinson.

For Bob Geldof, the memories of playing Trinity Ball in 1976, must have seemed in the distant past, as he received his honorary degree in the Public Theatre forty years later. “Music can break the shame of silence, the shackles of hopelessness and the injustice of poverty," said the Public Orator, Professor Anna Chahoud in her oration, honouring the Irish singer.  This is precisely what he did in 1984 when he and fellow singer Midge Ure founded the charity supergroup  Band Aid to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia, followed by the charity concert  Live Aid in 1985 and the  Live 8 concerts in 2005.  Adding to the many accolades he has received for his anti-poverty efforts in relation to Africa, he was awarded a Doctor in Laws today.

In her oration, the Public Orator captured the spirit of the “Irish rebel at heart” whose ability to challenge society has achieved so much:

“So here you are, Robert Frederick ‘Bob’ Geldof, KBE, Man of Peace and Irish rebel at heart, still on your Long Journey to Justice. How many fellow travellers you’ve acquired along the way, how many battles you’ve won against all odds, how many lives you’ve saved! But you say it’s not enough. Your implacable eloquence leaves us with no excuses. Social justice is not a dream: ‘Dreams are for those who are asleep – Wake up!’ Charity is not a guilt-ridden hobby: ‘It is a human being hurt: decide that it won’t be done in your name’”.

Another pioneering Irish role model, one of Ireland’s leading historians, Professor Marianne Elliott was conferred with a Doctor in Letters. At the forefront of Irish history research she was key in establishing and developing the most important centre for Irish Studies in Britain, the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool, where she was also its director.   Professor Elliott was the first person appointed to the Tony Blair Chair in Irish Studies endowed by the Irish government and is known for her award-winning biography Wolfe Tone: Prophet of Irish Independence. In 2000 she was awarded an OBE for services to Irish Studies and to the Northern Ireland peace process. Her honorary degree oration emphasised “her influence in shaping Irish historical inquiry”:

“Here is her vision: a confident nation that interrogates its traditions, understands its fractures and differences, and embraces responsible humility, ‘the quality of good leaders.’ Her presence among our graduands today is a privilege and a powerful source of inspiration and hope. The writing of history which makes a progress towards freedom and peace is deserving of the highest praise”.

The preeminent Australian medical researcher, Professor Terence Dwyer, renowned for his work on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was awarded a Doctor in Science.  He is a Professor of epidemiology and his seminal research carried out on the positioning of infants during sleep led to the revision of the international recommendations with a consequent significant reduction in cot deaths. He has received the highest honours from his native Australia for this research which is considered one of the most significant medical advances of the twentieth century. Now at the University of Oxford where he heads up the George Institute for Global Health he is currently leading a major global research study on childhood cancer.  The Public Orator referred to him as “this generous life-giver” in her oration, extolling his contribution to medical science:

“That mothers and fathers may be spared at least one kind of mournful loss is now more than a promise: it is the tangible life-giving effect of our first candidate’s contribution to medical research. Terrence Dwyer has devoted his life to infant and child health”.

Another leader in his field, Professor James P Smith, is one of the first scientists to discover strong associations between childhood mental health and adult economic outcomes. He was awarded with a Doctor in Science. He currently holds the Distinguished Chair in Labor Markets and Demographic Studies at the RAND Corporation, USA. He is best known for his works on the economics of ageing, immigration, the effects of economic development on labour markets, and the interrelation of health and economic status. He is chair of/external assessor for a number of important longitudinal studies of ageing around the world.  Professor Smith was elected to the National Academy of Medicine at the US National Academy of Sciences and twice received a MERIT award. In her oration  the Public Orator stressed the significance of his research:

“He has sharply analysed the detrimental effects of psychological disorders suffered during childhood, which cast a long shadow over a life time, and have long-term economic costs:  children affected by depression, for example, will become adults less able to work and earn, less likely to enjoy a personal and social life – in a word, less ‘happy’”.

Finally, Environmentalist Patricia Oliver  who worked as a volunteer with An Taisce and other environmental initiatives for over 40 years was conferred with a Doctor in Laws. She is the Founder and Director of An Taisce’s Environmental Education Unit (2000-2015), now the largest and most influential environmental education organisation in the country and one of the most successful in the EU. Her links with Trinity go back to the 1990s when she took over the Foundation for Environmental Education co-ordinated schemes for Ireland from Trinity and grew them professionally to become models for Europe. Through the Green Schools Programme, she has had a transforming effect on hundreds of thousands of Irish children. The final honorary degree oration honoured her most appropriately:

“Treasures need faithful guardians to protect them, wise administrators to manage them, and inspiring advocates to plead for their respect, recognition and enhancement. The last of these important roles – An Taisce’s Environmental Educational Unit – was created and magnificently played by our last candidate, Patricia Joyce Oliver, the Irish ambassador of environmental education at home and abroad for forty-five years”.

For full orations click here:

This article features in the summer 2017 edition of the Provost’s ezine, TRINITY NOW.

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