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Honorary Graduate's Speech: Professor Peter Atkins, Doctor of Science (DSc)

Now Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford, Professor Atkins was an undergraduate and postgraduate student at the University of Leicester. His honorary degree was awarded for his contributions to chemistry. He has written college textbooks as well as books on science (particularly chemistry) for general audiences, such as Moilecules: The Second Law; Atoms, Electrons, and Change; The Periodic Kingdom. He received his honorary degree on Thursday, July 11 during the morning degree ceremony. The following is his response after the degree ceremony oration.

Mr Vice Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen. I owe all my intellectual life really to this University; the University picked me out of the gutter.

I didn't tell the Public Orator that he should say these words but let me just fill in a few more minutes of my life. I dropped out of school when I was fifteen - partly perhaps in reflection of what the Government reported only yesterday about the tedium of science education.

But I was urged by my employers - and those of you who are about to go out to work - be warned it is a dreadful thing to have to do - urged by my employers that I should try to get to a University.

In those days there was nothing like the universities clearing house. So I had to write during September of the year that I wanted to go to University to all, however many it was, forty universities in those days, asking if there was a space for me.

I had one reply - and that was this University, and so it is for that reason that I am standing here today because I was brought into the world effectively at that stage, and for that I shall be eternally grateful.

I am also grateful to my subject. My subject Chemistry lets me stand in the middle of understanding, looking towards Biology with one eye and looking towards Physics with the other eye. So, through Chemistry, the world already delightful becomes in my view more delightful. And that pleasure is what you have heard I seek to share and to spread.

And so I thank my subject for the insight it gives and I thank this University and the Vice-Chancellor, for giving me an intellectual opportunity and especially I thank you and the University for today's honour which is - truth be told - an acknowledgement of this University's success. Thank you very much.

July 2002

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Last updated: 26 July 2002 17:00
Created by: Rachel Tunstall
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