Clinton returns for honorary diploma An Oxford degree

June 09, 1994|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,London Bureau of The Sun

OXFORD, England -- President Clinton, bare-headed, ruddy-faced and smiling above a scarlet robe, received an honorary doctorate yesterday from Oxford University to cap his weeklong tour of Europe.

"I thought this was the one place in the world I could come and give a speech in the proper language," the president said as he accepted his honorary degree.

"But I heard the degree ceremony and realized I was another Yank half a step behind."

The degree is inscribed in Latin, and Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, the chancellor of the university, read his citation in Latin.

In translation, Lord Jenkins said, "President Clinton, you are a man of hopeful humanity and the head of a nation bound closely to ours in an ancient and hearty friendship.

"You are thoughtful in your care for your own people," he said, "and unwearying in the service of world peace."

President Clinton, who was a Rhodes scholar at University College here from October 1968 to June 1970, said he was "deeply honored" by the degree and by the honorary fellowship he received from his college.

The Degree of Doctor of Civil Law by Diploma is the highest the university awards. It is given only to royalty and to heads of state. Queen Elizabeth II, King Juan Carlo of Spain, Prince Naruhito of Japan and President Mary Robinson of Ireland have received it.

Mr. Clinton left Oxford for Yale Law School before finishing work on a graduate degree in politics.

Mrs. Clinton, he quipped, pointed out that he could not have gotten either the honorary degree or the University College fellowship on his own: "I had to be elected president first with her help."

The degree was awarded in the Sheldonian Theatre, the 300-year-old architectural tour de force by Christopher Wren. It is the great ceremonial hall of the university.

"I remember when I walked into this distinguished building today how I always felt a mixture of elation and wariness bordering on intimidation," the president said.

He first came here 26 years ago fresh from Georgetown University. His tutors reported that he was intelligent, hard-working and well-liked.

As he received the degree, he could hear students outside, protesting his meeting last week with a neo-fascist government official in Rome.

Mr. Clinton said that Oxford remains on the edge of things: "Just listen to what's going on outside."

It was also here at Oxford that the president smoked the famous marijuana cigarette he said he did not inhale and voiced his opposition to the Vietnam War.

Oxonians, both town and gown, seemed genuinely pleased that the president had returned to their city but not overly impressed.

"He's rather ineffectual, isn't he?" said Yvonne Simmons, a 60-year-old Latin teacher at a private school. "But with good intentions."

She'd come to see Mr. and Mrs. Clinton out of curiosity: "I like to see public figures. I'm a great royalist. I thought I ought to see America's royal family."

Toby Boyd, 22, an Oxford graduate, said he thought Mr. Clinton was probably intelligent because he had been a Rhodes scholar.

"But I'm intelligent," he said, "and I've been on the dole two years."

Arriving in Oxford, Mr. Clinton had tea in his old room with the head porter, Douglas Millin, 77. Mr. Millin was the only person from Oxford Mr. Clinton invited to his inauguration. Mr. Millin didn't bother going.

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