The Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, conferred honorary degrees at a traditional ceremony in the University’s Senate-House yesterday (Monday 23 June 2003).

The honorary graduates this year are:

Olga Kennard OBE ScD FRS of Newnham and Lucy Cavendish Colleges, formerly Director of the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre.

Stroud Francis Charles (Toby) Milsom QC MA FBA, Fellow of St John’s College, Emeritus Professor of Law.

Alan Graham MacDiarmid PhD FRS of Sidney Sussex College, Nobel Laureate, Blanchard Professor of Chemistry in the University of Pennsylvania and James Von Ehr Distinguished Chair of Science and Technology and Professor of Chemistry and Physics in the University of Texas at Dallas.

Sir Paul Maxime Nurse FRS, Nobel Laureate, Chief Executive, Cancer Research UK.

Sir John Edward Sulston PhD, FRS, Honorary Fellow of Pembroke College, Nobel Laureate, formerly Staff Scientist in the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Director of the Sanger Centre.

Anthony Mark David Gormley OBE, MA, Honorary Fellow of Trinity College and of Jesus College, Sculptor.

Sir Peter Reginald Frederick Hall CBE, MA Honorary Fellow of St Catharine's College, Director of plays, films and opera.

John Coolidge Adams, composer

Honorary degrees at the University of Cambridge have a long history, dating back 500 years. Amongst the earliest recorded ceremonies was in 1493, when the University agreed to honour the poet John Skelton. An honorary degree is the highest honour the University can give.

The day itself is declared by the University to be a 'scarlet day', when all those participating must wear full academical dress, and buildings around Cambridge fly their flags.

As the bells of the University Church ring out, processions slowly make their way around the yard of the Senate-House, and at the end of the ceremony a procession often takes place through the streets of Cambridge.

The University's Statutes provide for the conferment of titles of degrees honoris causa ('as a mark of honour') on "members of the Royal Family, British subjects who are of conspicuous merit or have done good service to the University, and foreigners of distinction" (Statute B.IV).

Proposals are considered annually by the University's Council. Any person may write to the Vice-Chancellor, who also consults Faculty Boards and the Council itself. These proposals, amounting to several dozen each year, are reviewed by a committee of the Council, chaired by the Vice-Chancellor, which makes recommendations to the Council.

After final consideration of a short-list (and of course after clearing, in confidence, with those proposed that they are willing for their names to go forward), nominations are published early in the calendar year. About nine distinguished persons are nominated each year. It is after this that members of the Regent House may ask for a vote, as happened most recently in 1992 and 1998. In most cases, the nominations are approved after a short time and the preparations for the ceremony can begin.

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