Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, let me first explain why at the opening of these rites a departure was made from the usual ceremonial. Why we put strange garb upon our Chancellor and then hurried him away to take it off again and why the Vice-Chancellor emerging from the academic seclusion in which it is his desire always to live performed for a few crowded minutes of his in-glorious life exalted functions which ordinarily appertain to an office which belongs by right to the highest in the land. Our Chancellor is a man of great mental and bodily activity; a man, moreover, of many parts, albeit essentially self-contained, teres atque rotundus, yet even he shrank from the acrobatic feat of conferring a degree upon himself. That his Excellency was ever faced with the dreadful prospect of so daring a performance came about in this wise. In 1916 the University of Hong Kong decided to confer an honorary degree on Mr Cecil Clementi, as he then was. Mr Clementi had done great service to the University in the critical days of its infancy; and he himself is and was a distinguished scholar.
Educated at St Pauls School, London, and passing in due course to Oxford as a Demy of Magdalen College, our Chancellor took a first class in the honours school of Classical Moderations and the Boden Sanskrit Scholarship. He was honourably mentioned for the Hertford, Craven and Ireland Scholarships and “approached very nearly” as the Latin phrase had it, to the winning of the Gaisford Greek Prose prize. I dare wager that there was a time when our Chancellor was tempted to stay in Oxford and live the life of a scholar there, but Oxford’s loss was Hong Kong’s gain. Nor has our Chancellor, since he came among us as a cadet, allowed his muse to die of departmentalism – that awful condition which a distinguished Viceroy of India, in a moment of more that usual expansion, diagnosed as resulting not so much from “moral delinquency” as from “mental hiatus”.
Sir Cecil Clementi is now a Chinese scholar of substantial repute and, besides writing the University anthem in Latin verse he has published “Cantonese Love Songs” and the “Pervigilum Veneris”. His Excellency once traveled from Kashgar to Kowloon and thereafter published a summary of the geographical observations recorded during the journey. He has also published a book on the Chinese in British Guiana.
To return from this digression, when the offer came to him in 1916, our Chancellor was then administering the Government of British Guiana. He wrote accepting and expressing the hope that he would some day come back to Hong Kong to receive the honour at the University’s hands. That day has come. To us in the University, in spite of the darkness which enfolds us, it is the dawn of a brighter era. We welcome you, Your Excellency, not only as our Chancellor but as one of our graduates whose scholarship is an ornament to the University and whose kindly sympathy and generous understanding will be to us who work here an abiding consolation and encouragement.
Citation written and delivered by Sir William Hornell, Vice-Chancellor.