The world’s media has decamped on Oxford to cover the return of the historic university city’s prodigal daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader. The Noble Prize winning activist said that her happy days as an Oxford undergraduate in the 1960s helped her through her darkest years when she was under house arrest in Burma and separated from her British husband and children.
Ms Suu Kyi studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at St Hugh’s College Oxford, from 1964 to 1967, and met her future husband, the Tibet scholar Michael Aris, at the university. She later settled in north Oxford with their two sons, Alexander and Kim. She has not been back to Oxford since April 1988, when she left for Burma to nurse her sick mother, intending to return to Britain within weeks.
This coincided with mass protests against Burma’s military government. She became involved in the uprising, and was placed under house arrest by the regime in July 1989.
Ms Suu Kyi said: “Today, many strands of my life have come together: the years that I spent as a student at St Hugh’s, the years that I spent at Park Town as a wife and mother, the years I spent under house arrest when the University of Oxford stood up and spoke up for me.
During the most difficult years I was upheld by memories of Oxford. Those were among the most important inner resources, and helped me to cope with all the challenges I had to face.
The memories were in fact very simple ones: summer days like these, reading on the lawn at St Hugh’s or being in the library not looking at a book but out of the window.
These are very precious memories because I have lived a happy life, and this made me understand so much better the young people of Burma who wanted to live a happy life and had never been given the opportunity to lead one.
When I see the students at Oxford now – and I met some of them at St Hugh’s yesterday – I see myself again as a young student: carefree, happy, nice.”
The university’s official citation for the Honorary Degree, which was read out in Latin, praised her quiet dedication to decades of military rule in her country:
“Here you studied and formed friendships, here you knew the delights of youth, here as a wife and mother you lived a quiet domestic life, until your love of your country and passion for the cause of freedom summoned you back. For many years you bore the burden of isolation, displaying patience and endurance to a degree not easily imagined.
Your silence has sounded longer than the jabber of politics and the clang of military power. Out of deep darkness your little lamp has shone across the planet. Your stillness has moved the world. Sitting in this theatre, we are conscious that we are also spectators of a drama played in the theatre of the nations, one whose ending is as yet unsure.”
You can view Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech in full here. It is a fantastic tribute to a city full of memories.
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