Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen,
One of my favourite books is Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll – a local Cheshire author, as I am sure you know. In one wonderful passage, the White Rabbit has to make a speech. He puts on his spectacles and asks, ‘Where shall I begin?’ The King tells him: ‘Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’ Well, that’s my plan this afternoon.
I have put on my spectacles and I want to begin by thanking you, Chancellor, for the Honorary Doctorate that you have just bestowed upon me. I am grateful, too, for the Public Orator’s generous words and for the wonderfully warm welcome I have received today. As Countess of Chester, I take great pride in my relationship with both this beautiful city and now with your University.
I can speak to you, Chancellor, as Chancellor to Chancellor, because I am a Chancellor, too. I am Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen – originally founded as a small theological college, very much as this university was founded back in the 1830s. It was around the time when Lewis Carroll was born, in the nearby village of Daresbury, about halfway between here and the university’s Warrington campus.
Your founders believed in ‘education for service’ – and I know that ‘education for service’ is still at the heart of the university’s mission today. As Lewis Carroll said in another of his works, ‘One of the deep secrets of life is that all that is really worth the doing is what we do for others.’
Can I congratulate all of you who are getting your degrees today. The one advantage you have over me is that you don’t have to make a speech – but I do know that you have put in years of hard work. Very well done. And well done, too, to your parents and guardians, your families and friends, who have supported you throughout your time here.
You have heard today something about my passion for literacy and literature, so I am going to end with one final word of advice from my ‘author of the day’, Lewis Carroll: ‘Always speak the truth. Think before you speak. And write it down afterwards.’ I have thought about this, I know it’s the truth and it’s written down here: as you leave today’s degree ceremony, you should do so with your heads held high, justly proud of all you have achieved at this fine University.
And for the future, may I wish you all the very best of British luck!