You have twice honoured me today. First, you have conferred on me one of the highest degrees of your university; and now you have done me the further honour of inviting me to address your Congregation - a privilege which I recognize and much appreciated, particularly since I speak, in part at least, on behalf of my distinguished fellow graduates.
Let me begin by discharging this most pleasant duty. May I, Your Excellency and Chancellor, on behalf of my fellow graduates and myself, express to you, to the Vice-Chancellor and to the Senate our deep gratitude for the honour you have done us.
A university congregation is for me a uniquely satisfying, and sometimes a moving, occasion, combining as it does the dignity of a simple and precisely executed ceremonial with the sense of belonging to a great and free community, a worldwide community of the intellect. A congregation is also, for me, a reminder that the liberating and the transforming power of ideas cannot be contained by national boundaries. The fraternity of scholarship and scientific endeavour unites men and women of all nations and all races in a common loyalty to the academic ideals that they all share. I have felt these sentiments most strongly at this Congregation of the University of Hong Kong.
When the Vice-Chancellor gave me notice that I would be invited to speak, I gladly said how happy I would be to do so. But is soon realized how little I really knew about your University. My few visits, and the official and business correspondence I have had with university officers, have been about current activities and future plans. But really to know an institution one must know its history; and I found that I knew all too little of the history of this University.
So I tried, in what little time I could save, to inform myself better about it. I borrowed from our library at the ACU the volume edited by Brian Harrison, which was published to commemorate the University's golden jubilee; and having read it, I looked forward even more proudly than before to become a graduate of the University of Hong Kong.
Yours is an unusually interesting and eventful history for so young a university. I refer particularly to the years from its foundation to the end of the Second World War. It is a story of noble ideals and personal heroism, and of courage that springs from faith and from indomitable will.
It is also a nice illustration for the truth that man proposes but God disposes. Lugard's high-minded imperial purpose failed. The University was not destined to be a British University for China. Yet his vision inspired a remarkable degree of support from the leading elements in the community - and indeed outside it. Few universities in modern times can have had so many generous benefactors.
The original intention failed, but not the University. It is hard to see how it could have failed after its heroic survival of the Second World War. But in any case its future was assured by the winds of imperial change which had been blowing in Whitehall during those early years of the war. During those years the decision had been taken to liquidate the Empire in an orderly and responsible manner; and the Asquith Commission had been appointed to recommend to the Secretary of State what universities should be established in the Colonies immediately after the war, in order to produce the educated people who would man the institutions at the highest level of newly independent countries. The report of this Commission, fresh from the press, was in the hands of Sir Christopher Cox's Committee on the future of the University of Hong Kong. And so, in due course, the question of the University's future was answered in the affirmative in 1948.
Since then the University has grown from strength to strength, academically and in other respects, not least in the number of its indigenous staff; and I should like, if I may, to salute my friend the distinguished Professor Rayson Huang as the University's first home-grown Vice-Chancellor.
Mr. Chancellor, the pace of change since the Second World War has been so rapid that it is hard to preserve one's sense of wonder. So many new marvels succeed one another that each new marvel seems less marvelous than it really is. Long before we landed on the moon, one heard sad stories of blasé children, denatured by familiarity with modern technology, and unable to be amazed by any new thing. Such are the times in which we live.
And yet, Mr. Chancellor, should not the presence here of a West Indian from the tiny island of Barbados on the other side of the world be a matter for some wonderment? Should it not be amazing that the University of Hong Kong should even have heard of his existence? I think it would have been not so many years ago.
In my pre-war childhood and adolescence in Barbados it never occurred to me that I would ever visit Hong Kong. Indeed, I never visited any other island in the West Indies until I was 30 years old, though I had already three times visited the United Kingdom. In those imperial days before the war, all roads led to London; Britain was the accepted source of all expert knowledge; and it was only the members of the colonial service - the Frederick Lugards, the Mark Youngs, and the rest - who traveled from continent to continent, following the unsetting sun from one red patch on the map of the world to another.
My presence here is, in its small way, a sign of the great changes that have taken place since the war, changes brought about by the astounding developments in science and technology. Air travel and telecommunications have brought us closer together, while at the same time science has created for us the threat of widespread, if not global, catastrophe. Thus, by the attractions of friendship and brotherhood, as it were the carrot, and nuclear menace, as it were the stick, we are being urged towards the creation of a more cooperative society. Or so it seems to me.
One aspect of this whole process of change has been the expansion and spread of universities throughout the world. In the Commonwealth, the increase in the number of universities has been accompanied by the growth in the spirit and practice of cooperation among them; and the Association of Commonwealth Universities, I venture to say, has been both instrument and symbol of this cooperation. The essence of the Association was captured by Lord Ashby in the title he gave to the lively and perceptive history which he wrote on the occasion of the Associations' Jubilee in 1963. He called it 'Community of Universities'. I can think of no better description.
The University of Hong Kong, founded two years earlier than the Association, was one of its founding members; and I imagine that the University's first public appearance outside Hong Kong must have been at the Congress of the Universities of the Commonwealth, held in London in 1912. It was by the decision of that Congress that the ACU was brought into being in the following year.
The Association has grown in membership with the expansion of the universities in both the older and the newer countries of the Commonwealth; and it is a cause of considerable gratification that, in spite of the financial blizzards that have swept over the universities in recent years, the membership of the Association continues to grow, as new universities are founded in those countries that still think they can afford them. The University of Hong Kong is one of those with which we are most closely in touch, chiefly through our Appointments service, but also through the friendly personal contacts which are a much valued part of the reward of serving in the ACU.
Mr. Chancellor, may I assure you that I am not under the illusion that the honour you have conferred on me today is due to the recognition of my own merit (though your Public Orator has done a wonderfully creative job with slender resources available to him - and for that he has my admiration and my warmest gratitude). I know full well that if it had been possible for the University to confer a degree on the ACU, then it, and not I, would have been the recipient.
Nevertheless I rejoice in the good fortune that has placed me in the office when the University has been moved to bestow its highest mark of favour upon the Association, which has been privileged to serve it almost throughout its existence. And I shall treasure this occasion in my memory during the years that are left to me.