Opening Remarks by President Peter Dorman
June 27, 2009
Distinguished guests, faculty, students, staff, and friends, I bid you a warm welcome to the 15th ceremony of granting honorary degrees at AUB. The conferring of honorary degrees is a celebration in which a University acknowledges significant contributions made by men and women to science, public service, literature, and the arts. It is fitting that my predecessor, President John Waterbury, succeeded so well in establishing the tradition of awarding honorary degrees on an annual basis, by which we acclaim the accomplishments of extraordinary men and women and proudly associate ourselves with individuals who create knowledge, move entire societies, and extol the human spirit.
The history of this venerable tradition at AUB begins with an historical oddity. You will note in your program that the first two honorary degrees ever awarded by AUB were conferred on Yakub Saruf and Faris Nimr. These two men, instructors at the Syrian Protestant College in the first two decades of its existence, were caught up in the controversy surrounding the supposed espousal of Darwin's theory of evolution by members of the medical faculty, and they found their contracts summarily terminated in 1884. Years later, in belated recognition of their unswerving dedication to the profession of teaching at the College, President Daniel Bliss awarded Saruf and Nimr the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in absentia in 1890, noting that "I bestow one of the highest scholarly degrees upon two gentlemen who taught at this college, because they served science with incredible devotion for twenty years. I invited them to attend this ceremony but they declined .... and I received their reply with both sorrow and joy. I was sorry because I could not bestow the degrees in person and I was happy because they cared about achievements and not titles."
I believe that, of the individuals who are present with me on this stage today, the same may be said of each of them: their life achievements and commitments to the furtherance of human causes are made without expectation or thought of honors, but only for the fulfillment of the convictions they passionately serve. It is we who are honored by their presence today; it is this University that shares in the light of their accomplishments.
Watch the ceremony