When the Vice-Chancellor was good enough first to broach to me the idea that the University would like to honour me in the manner that has now so kindly been done, three thoughts immediately occurred to me. First, of course, I felt very flattered and pleased that the University should so distinguish me; and I am happy indeed to be of the select company of our honorary graduates. I really fell myself all the more truly to be a member of this University for the degree that has just been conferred upon me.
Second, something told me that, whoever else was to be honoured at the same time, it was not likely that I would be able to get away with my degree scot-free, but that I would almost certainly have to sing for it. So here I am, singing for it to the best of my ability - not only on my own behalf but also on behalf of Dr. Hua, Professor Rayson Huang, and Professor Y.C. Wong.
Finally I knew beyond doubt, and with a slight sinking feeling, that whoever else should be selected to co-star with me on this traditional, stately, and impressive university occasion, I should undoubtedly be, academically speaking, tail-end Charlie; with no pretensions whatever to matching the intellectual reputations of my distinguished confreres.
And so, of course, it has certainly proved to be. Dr. Hua, Professor Rayson Huang, and Dr. Y.C. Wong are gentlemen of the highest attainments, as our Orator has made very clear. It is not for me to add to what he has said about them, except to express my gratification at finding myself in their company. But however gracefully their new caps and hoods may sit on their shoulders; with robes and wearer mutually embellishing on another whereas in my case the accoutrements simply honour me; nevertheless I know very well that they would all wish me to express on their behalf also, their gratification and thanks to the University for the honour now done them.
The trouble from my point of view, of course, in this matter of academic reputation, is that one gets no intellectual acclaim for being a general administrator. Academic distinction tends to derive from specialization, which someone once defined as knowing more and more about less and less until you know everything about nothing. This is considered to be impeccable academically; whereas to be a generalist, and know less and less about more and more until you know nothing about everything, a state which I sometimes rather frantically feel I may be approaching, is a great deal less intellectually respectable. Moreover, it is a curious fact that a distinguished specialist in one restricted field is often popularly listened to admiringly on subjects entirely outside his field; while your generalist's opinions are not much respected on any subject, even though he may in fact know quite a lot about it.
Mr. Vice-Chancellor, your predecessor in office, whom I am happy to see in this audience, may perhaps have guessed what I am leading up to. For most of us here will have heard, although we may have partly forgotten, an eloquent plea he made, on a somewhat similar occasion to this one, for the all-rounder: a plea for fair consideration for young people of general ability to be admitted equally with the specialists to a chance for higher education. This is the plea I am attempting to endorse, and indeed you yourself have forestalled me several times in doing so also. But as I recollect Sir Lindsay's words - and I confess I speak from memory - he was advocating a considerable expansion to enable the admission to the University of the all-rounder as well as the specialist. That this is a worthy ideal, I would certainly not deny: but all aims are limited by what is practicable; and I am suggesting no more than that, within the limits of the University's abilities, the all-rounder, the intelligent young sportsman, the natural leader, the generally enquiring and practically inclined young mind, should by no means be forgotten by our schools and excluded from the University for lack of outstanding brilliance in some particular field. Let us make a modest place for him in our system even if his abilities and potential are harder to measure, and even if some young people of a more narrowly focused turn of mind have to be denied. For society cannot be made to work by committees of experts alone, of vital importance to out society even though they are. The general administrator is, and always must be, the bridge between them; and without him they will not understand each other nor find it easy to reconcile their conflicting interests - nor, may I add, will they have anyone to blame so conveniently when they fail to do so.
But no one, of course, is in fact wholly one thing or the other, as my friends on the platform with me today amply illustrate. We all have our primary and subsidiary interests; and we generalists can I feel take comfort from the fact that, provided we too can keep our minds open to reason and argument, and can preserve a spirit of intellectual challenge and enquiry eschewing an acceptance of establishing trains of thought merely because they are traditional, or fresher ideas merely because they claim to be avant-garde or 'progressive', then we too ought to be able to claim a corner in the intellectual world.
Finally, may I take this opportunity, Mr. Pro-Chancellor, of thanking you on behalf of the University, and of myself, for accepting the new burden you have just assumed on top of your many other responsibilities to the University and to the community. The unkind may perhaps think that the appointment, just in time for you to be able to preside at this ceremony, comes as a suspiciously happy and convenient moment. Happy it certainly is, and particularly happy for me to receive my degree at your hands. But that there was anything contrived about it, I must strenuously deny - the idea of a Pro-Chancellor is too old a one for that. Since some have enquired what the Pro-Chancellor's duties are to be, may I perhaps at least offer a word of general advice. I would suggest cultivating a slight bow, to be repeated 500 times in fairly quick succession. And if this should result in a back-ache, well, there will always be a doctor in the house!
And now, on behalf of Dr. Hua, Professor Rayson Huang, Professor Y.C. Wong, and myself, may I thank the University for the very great honour that has been done to us: and wish the University every success in the challenging years of progress and expansion that lie ahead.