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Rev Father Thomas Francis RYAN

Doctor of Letters
honoris causa

Mr. Chancellor, Mr. Vice-Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasing duty to express thanks of my colleagues and myself for the honour that the University has conferred on us today. I am told that on such an occasion as this it is customary for the speaker to point out how worthy in every way his colleagues are of this great honour while he, poor worm, is quite unfit to be in their company. I am afraid that I cannot follow this precedent because I am too much afraid that you might accept my words quite literally. There is one way, however, in which I am in a different position from theirs, because, while there are men of academic distinction of have been associated in a special way with the work of this University, I am just an ordinary citizen of Hong Kong, this no mean city and Colony; and so it gives me an opportunity of saying something about the part that the University plays in the ordinary life of the Colony.

When I was coming to Hong Kong for the first time, thirty-two years ago, a fellow passenger - one traveled by boat in those days - a lady who had spent many years in Hong Kong before her husband was transferred to a much more important position in the much more important city of Shanghai, undertook to inform me fully about the deficiencies of Hong Kong. Among other things she assured me that Hong Kong was a 'cultural desert'. In fact there were only two things, she declared, that lifted Hong Kong out of the lowest rut: one was a body known as the English Association and the other was a musical body called the Hong Kong Singers. In Hong Kong I soon became acquainted with these two institutions. I found that the English Association was quite a pleasant body, which met every month except in the summer under the chairmanship of the Governor, to listen to discourses on some aspect of literature, until it perished as a war casualty. I soon found too, that it depended for its existence on the University. The guiding spirit of it and the most entertaining speaker, and, when needs be, the most devastating critic, was the genial professor of English, Professor Simpson; and the regular organizer of it, under his guidance, was a lecturer in the same Faculty. As for the Hong Kong Singers, I cannot say how many of the staff or student body were among the members, but what I remember is that on the first occasion I attended a performance, I think, the Brahm's Requiem, the chief soloist was the Professor of Physiology in the University - its present Vice-Chancellor.

That was a mild beginning, and I should like to tell you what I discovered as the time went on, of the part that the University played in the preparation for the war that was looming, in the Colony's brief and bitter period of war, and in the years when all were waiting and planning hopefully for the time of recovery. What I want to dwell on briefly is the part that it has played and is playing in the development of this modern miracle that is present-day Hong Kong.

This group of islands was, as you know, in pre-war days a trading station with a population of little more than half-a-million. There was not any real hope that it would ever be more than that, but in the internment camp of Stanley, the Reader in Biology, Dr. Herklots, found listening ears when he talked to some of the government staff who were interned with him, of the need and possibility of developing the Colony's only two primary industries, agriculture and fisheries; and so it was that no sooner was peace restored, than immediate steps were taken to develop these two means of local food production. In the great growth of them that has taken place since then, the University has been in the forefront in giving scientific assistance. The geography department, beginning with Professor Davis's book 'Hong Kong in its Geographical Setting', has shown the way to full land utilization; the zoology department, has led the way in fisheries research; and more than one department has assisted in help in finding the best use of fertilizers.

It was not many years after the return of peace to the Colony that there began the growth of industries which has since transformed Hong Kong. This development naturally began in a haphazard way, but from the first the University, through its economics department, helped, with its guidance, to give order to that growth and to show what had to be done to give a sound basis to the Colony's sudden prosperity. Too much praise cannot be given to Professor Kirby and his associates. Mr. Szczepanik, his senior lecturer, told the story up to eight years ago in a valuable book 'The Economic Growth of Hong Kong'; but the later years have been more important, and it is to Professor Kirby more than to any one man that Hong Kong's sound position in the industrial world has been made known abroad, and it is to him and his associates that the need of scientific management in industry has at last come to be recognized.

If I were capable of speaking of the application of science to industry, I should have to tell of what is being done by the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture and the departments of physics and chemistry, not merely in training men for the future needs of the Colony, but also in giving assistance wherever it is needed, and warnings where they are needed, too. No one interested in the future of Hong Kong can fail to be impressed by Professor Mackey's warnings - I hope that they will not prove Cassandra-like - of what will happen if Hong Kong's industry does not have the technologists that it requires. And, as for technicians, in this critical time it is good to know that it is the University of Hong Kong that has trained the present head of its Technical College, Mr. Watt Hoi-kee.

When Hong Kong's population grew and its industries developed, it needed new buildings. Our young department of Architecture is doing what it can to inculcate a much needed feeling for good design as well as sound structure, and the University itself has done its part to give a good lead. Its first Professor of Architecture, Professor Gordon Brown, was the first to introduce colour into Hong Kong buildings; then its recently built chemistry building, staff flats, and sports pavilion are object lessons that cannot fail to impress. It is, too, a great satisfaction to note that one of those who is honoured today has come to Hong Kong for the special purpose of ensuring that the siting and design of the University's future buildings will be worthy of the University's position in the Colony.

If the appearance of our new Hong Kong buildings have not been what we should have desired, the University has at least done its part to ensure that they are safe. In the first place the University has taken the lead in local testing of soil. In earlier years, when a builder wanted to construct in stone he went to the Professor of Geography and Geology to find where the best local granite could be found; now that he builds in concrete he is directed to the Professor of Engineering to make sure that its quality is up to standard.

While the University is attending well to its main function of educating our future leaders, and taking a generous place in helping the growth of our prosperity, it is also in a splendid way widening the field of knowledge for many by its extra-mural courses. The desire for knowledge which is one of the most striking characteristics of the Chinese race, is catered for by the department of extra-mural studies; I know that I am voicing the feelings of many of my fellow-citizens when I express the hope that this is only the first step towards the establishment of courses within it which will lead to the obtaining of a degree in the University.

There is another phase of University service to Hong Kong which I fear does not gain sufficient recognition, and that is the contact which it provides with other places. In the conferences which it promotes and houses, such as those held in its Jubilee Year, the recent meeting of Asian historians, and the present conference on extra-mural studies, as well as by its annual visiting examiners, it brings a regular stream of most valuable visitors, who have done more, I think, that any others to gain respect for the Colony in quarters which count in our international standing. At the same time the undergraduates of the University have proved excellent messengers of good will. Whether they go as students of history or geography or economics, or as athletes and sports teams, they help greatly to spread our good name, and I am glad to have had personal knowledge of the good impression which they have made in the last two years, in Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and Malaysia.

I have mentioned some of the books produced by the University which have been of great help to the Colony at large, as well as to its reputation, and I should like to add mention of the reports of the symposia which were held in the Jubilee Year, particularly to that on high buildings, which has attracted much attention abroad. And I must not fail to mention the fact that the department of history produced the most recent historian of the Colony, Mr. Endacott, who has given us the most complete story of Hong Kong so far, and has drawn a new series of portraits for its governors, warts and all.

Lastly, there is one way in which the value of the University has been inestimable, and here I speak with some justification as an old schoolmaster. It is the University that sets the educational standard of the Colony, and it is to its credit and to our benefit that it has set it high. It is not an easy thing to gain entry into the University and to pass its examinations to gain a degree, and it is because of this that the schools of Hong Kong must maintain a high level, and further result is that a Hong Kong degree, in whatever subject it is gained, is something worth having. In our competitive world it would be worthless if it were not. In our competitive world, thanks to the University, Hong Kong is able to maintain its place.

It is because the international standing of the Hong Kong University is high that my colleagues and I are especially proud to be now numbered among its graduates.

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