Michael Palin receives honourary degree

Michael Palin, the comedian and broadcaster, today (23 June) received a honourary doctorate of science as part of the University’s graduation ceremonies.

Mr Palin is the third member of the Monty Python group to be recognised by the University, following Terry Jones who received an honourary degree in 2013, and John Cleese, who served as Rector from 1970 to 1973.

Recognised for his contribution to the subject of geography, Mr Palin said he was “very proud.”

Mr Palin, a former president of the Royal Geographical Society, said he was “particularly pleased” that the honour recognised geography, a subject he said can be unfairly regarded as boring.

“Geography for me, in my life, has been curiosity about the world, interest in why people are different, and it’s done me a lot of good,” he said.

“I’m very proud to be an ambassador for geography so this particular award, doctor of science for my work in geography, is important and I hope it sends out a signal to other people who want to be geographers, want to travel or just want to understand the world.”

Speaking to The Saint, when asked what advice he would give to graduating St Andrews students with a passion for the performing arts, Mr Palin said, “Well I’m a great believer in just following your instincts as much as possible, as I say, this is not the end of your education, this is just the start of something.”

Well I’m a great believer in just following your instincts as much as possible

He went on to add, “In a sense, I’d say go with the most difficult option, I’m a bit of a coward, I’ve not always followed the hard road, but I think sometimes something that really scares you – is quite good, is quite bracing, and if you feel you’ve got talents, in the performing arts, in any way, now is the time I think to try and discover, where those talents are, where they can develop.”

During her introduction of Mr Palin’s guest lecture yesterday (22 June) afternoon, the University Principal, Professor Sally Mapstone, noted the extensive travelling Mr Palin has done in course of making different documentaries, visiting over 90 different countries. Professor Mapstone noted it was appropriate considering the international nature of St Andrews, with students and staff from nearly 140 countries.

Michael Palin speaking to The Saint, Photo: University of St Andrews

When speaking to The Saint, Mr Palin emphasised the importance of an internationalist outlook, saying, “I think it’s very, very important. I don’t know if I’d said that if I hadn’t travelled as much as I have.

“I’ve always just been interested in other countries but once I’ve been out there and travelled and met people, and when we were making our programs, we needed people to help us, we needed people’s hospitality, we needed people’s welcome, all over the world from tiny villages to big city apartments, and nearly everyone we saw was prepared to give and offer us their help, and I think that’s really important to remember, we’ve got to respond and not shrink back.”

I think an international viewpoint and international connections, in any shape or form are very, very good

He went on to say, “I think an international viewpoint and international connections, in any shape or form are very, very good, and it obviously helps universities to have many people from abroad now, I think that should continue.”

Mr Palin also discussed the subject of Brexit, labelling it a “mess” and warning that “it may make us more xenophobic” as a country. Adding that he believed, the “more we understand our neighbours, the better.”

In his laureation address today, Professor William Austin, of the School of Geography and Sustainable Development, said that Mr Palin “In his inimitable, understated fashion, has gently, yet persuasively, educated and inspired millions about nature and culture and the interactions between them around the world.

Professor Austin went on to reference Mr Palin’s often-quoted statement that, “Geography is the subject which holds the key to our future”, saying that it was “encapsulating of his belief in the power of an integrative geographic vision to address today’s pressing environmental issues.”

Accepting the degree, Mr Palin noted his own, as well as the subject of geography’s, connections to Scotland, telling the audience, “I must say I feel the hands of Stevenson, Chambers, Livingston, Conan-Doyle, John Murray and many others firmly on my shoulder.

“I hope that sitting amongst you today will be the next generation of travellers and adventurers. From north and south of the border, and from all over the world.”

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