A Royal Affair: University of London Foundation Day 2014

For the first time in our history, the University of London's Foundation Day was held in the magnificent surroundings of Buckingham Palace
University of London Foundation Day 2014
Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal pictured with honorary graduands and the Vice-Chancellor
This year’s event was extra special, held in the spectacular surroundings of Buckingham Palace itself

The 178th anniversary of the Foundation of the University of London was celebrated in style in the opulent surroundings of Buckingham Palace on Wednesday 26 November. Marking a historical first for the University, and an opportunity not to be missed for staff and students, not even the wet, drizzly London weather could do anything to dampen spirits. Tickets to the event were like ‘gold dust’, with staff being chosen at random from a balloting system. With only 50 coveted tickets up for grabs, the lucky recipients knew they were going to be in for a special treat.

Foundation Day is the annual celebration of the grant by William IV of the University’s first charter on 28 November 1836. This is the University’s flagship event, and the point at which Honorary Degrees are bestowed upon a small number of eminent individuals.

The University presented its first honorary degrees in June 1903. Among the recipients were the Prince of Wales (LLD) and the Princess of Wales (DMus), later King George V and Queen Mary. Since then, this accolade has been bestowed on a wide range of distinguished individuals from both the academic and non-academic worlds. Their names are recorded in the Register of Honorary Degrees. Among the list of famous signatures is Winston Churchill, Judi Dench, T S Eliot, Margot Fonteyn and Henry Moore. (Source: University of London intranet.)

"Guests made themselves comfortable in one of the palatial rooms, listening to the mellifluous voices of the Royal Holloway choir."

The University of London's Chancellor, Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, presided at this year’s ceremony where she conferred degrees upon an eclectic mix of graduands: Baroness Jo Valentine is the Chief Executive of London First. Her role centres on representing to national and local government the most pressing issues affecting London’s leading businesses. She received a Doctor of Science (Economics). Professor K Srinath Reddy is a global leader in cardiology and public health; he received a Doctor of Science (Medicine). Professor Mary Beard OBE, is one of Britain’s best known Classicists; she received a Doctor of Literature. And Micheal Grandage CBE is President of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, and founder of the Michael Grandage Company which produces work in film, theatre and television; he also received a Doctor of Literature.

Foundation Day follows a similar format each year, and despite the grandiose surroundings, this year's was no different. HRH The Princess Royal met the honorary graduands and their orators at a pre-ceremony reception, while guests made themselves comfortable in one of the palatial rooms, listening to the mellifluous voices of the Royal Holloway choir. The Chancellor's procession marked the start of the ceremony, which proceeded with an opening address by HRH. The graduands were then introduced by their orators, before receiving their honorary graduate hood and diploma from the Chancellor.

HRH The Princess Royal talking to guests

The evening progressed on to a reception in the Picture Gallery, one of 19 State Rooms in the palace. Created by John Nash in the 1820s, it houses some of the major paintings in the Royal Collection. We found ourselves snuggly nestled amongst the artworks of Italian, Dutch and Flemish Master painters including Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck and Claude, all represented in their mesmerising glory. The room truly was an art lover's dream, and felt much akin to an intimate viewing at the National Gallery. Guests mingled, and drinks and canapés were served. HRH the Princess Royal joined us for the reception and spent time conversing with the invited guests.

International Programmes staff

Commenting on the night, our Pro Vice-Chancellor (International), Dr Mary Stiasny, said: “Foundation Day is always a very special occasion when we feel very much part of the long and venerable tradition which is the University of London, held in the presence of our Chancellor. This year’s event was extra special, held in the spectacular surroundings of Buckingham Palace itself. We were privileged to celebrate the new Honorary Graduands and the music provided by the choir of Royal Holloway was truly glorious. It was an occasion I, for one, will never forget.”

Echoing these sentiments, Timothy Wade (Associate Director, Assessment and Awards), said: “It was truly thrilling to attend the Foundation Day Ceremony at Buckingham Palace. The event is always special but the splendour of the venue added an extra layer of excitement. The beauty and opulence of our surroundings were breathtaking. There are not enough adjectives to describe it all, so I’ll simply say that it was stunning. The hospitality was extremely warm and inviting, and graduates and guests were made to feel at home – and a very impressive home it was too. The ceremony itself was polished and elegant, the music interlude was enchanting, the acoustics perfectly complementing the flawless pitch and harmony of the choir.

"We look forward to welcoming the Chancellor back to Senate House to celebrate Foundation Day in 2015. But the invitation to the Palace, which provided such a beautiful and magnificent backdrop, was another fascinating story in the history of the University. A fantastic evening for all those able to attend.”

The bell in the Picture Gallery chimed at 10pm to mark the end of the evening's festivities. We left with a feeling of real gratitude at having been part of something very special.

A little bit of history

See a video newsreel film (1948) of Sir Winston Churchill being awarded a Doctor of Literature honoris causa at the University of London, Senate House.