If you’ve been paying attention to the news recently you might have noticed that the university where I work – Washington University in St Louis – has decided to give an honourary doctorate to Phyllis Schalfly. I, like many people here, hadn’t heard of Ms Schlafly, but having read some of her columns and having learned of her work against the Equal Rights Amendment, I’ve signed the letter from the Association of Women Faculty protesting the decision. It’s hard to see how our university can support someone whose life work has been to undermine the legal and social status of so many of its students and colleagues.
But enough about Schlafly. Those more familiar with her will provide a better rapsheet. D’s description of the up-coming ceremony as the worst graduation ever made me try to remember who had been honoured at my own undergraduate graduation ceremony. And the person who sticks out most in my mind is the actress Helen Mirren, who was then famous for playing Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison in the TV-series Prime Suspect. And I remember, not just because my dad was rather awed to see Mirren in real life, but because of the speech one of the St Andrews officials gave to introduce her. He talked about how, when he had been growing up, and a girl his own age had been asked what she wanted to be when she grew up she had usually replied with one of the few professions that were thought of as suitable to women at the time: nurse, air-hostess, etc. But last week when he asked his own young daughter what she wanted to be, she’d replied, to his surprise: “Detective Chief Inspector”.
I wonder what my students will remember about their graduation ceremonies this year.