Laureation address: Professor Emeritus Roger Winston Smith AB MA PhD

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters
Laureation by Dr Hazel Cameron

Friday 8 December 2017

Chancellor, it is my privilege to present Professor Roger Winston Smith for the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.

I can think of no greater pleasure or honour than to share a stage with Roger Smith, Professor Emeritus of Government at the College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. He is credited with being one of a small number of scholars who pioneered the field of genocide studies, and who is a distinguished authority on the denial of the Armenian genocide of 1915.

Roger Smith was born into a loving family in a deeply segregated Birmingham, Alabama in 1936, the youngest of three children with parents who were strong, humane and, to the young Roger, inspiring. Their neighbourhood bordered onto a black community and he thus saw every day the deleterious conditions and socially sanctioned indignities that black people endured. From a very young age, Professor Smith railed against such inequalities.

As an undergraduate at Harvard, Professor Smith studied political theory and comparative politics, and in 1971 he completed his PhD at Berkeley. In 1995, along with Robert Jay Lifton and the late Erik Markusen, Professor Smith published the  ground-breaking article titled Professional Ethics and the Denial of the Armenian Genocide, a critical exposé of the campaign by the Turkish Embassy and the Institute of Turkish Studies to deny the Armenian genocide. Since this time, as an educator par excellence and a human rights advocate, Professor Smith has selflessly dedicated his time to speaking on the Armenian genocide and its denial in the classroom, in lecture halls, at international conferences and beyond.

It is therefore unsurprising that Professor Smith has received many accolades. In 1997 he received the Arthur Dadian Award for the preservation and presentation of Armenian history; in 2000, he was invited by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs to testify in Congress when the Armenian Genocide Resolution was under  consideration.  In 2005, in recognition of his major contribution to scholarship on the Armenian genocide, he was awarded the distinguished achievement award by the Armenian American Society for Studies on Stress and Genocide at Fordham University, New York. Further acknowledgement came in 2008 when the President of Armenia presented Professor Smith with the Movses Khorenatsi Medal and again in 2016 when the Armenian National Committee of America presented him with their 2016 Impact Award for his advancement of the Armenian cause.

It is my privilege to have known Professor Smith for over a decade, and, from my own personal experience, I can tell you that he is an inspirational teacher and a quite wonderful mentor. Professor Smith remains deeply committed to educating new generations of scholars to study, analyse, and solve the problem of genocide through prevention and tolerance, furthering the work in the field of genocide studies that he co-founded over three decades ago.

Chancellor, in recognition of a distinguished scholar and his major contribution to genocide studies, I invite you to confer the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, on Professor Roger Winston Smith.

Professor Roger Winston Smith's response

Well, I’m not speechless but I was deeply moved by that and I also loved that wild applause of you Scottish people, a country that I know and love very much.

It’s a great privilege to be here with you. I think of graduation as a sacred moment, not necessarily in a religious sense, but in the sense that it’s set apart, it’s something special, it has its own spirit and so on, and I am pleased to be able to congratulate you on your hard work and your many achievements.

It’s also occasion for me to give thanks to the University of St Andrews for the wonderful honour that they have bestowed upon me, in recognition of me, I suppose, but mainly, I think, of the work I’ve done over many years.

When I received a letter, out of the blue, that the University was going to confer upon me an honorary doctorate of letters, I couldn’t believe it at first. I was very surprised by it, but then reality set in: I felt prideful, I felt humble, and I felt a great bit of gratitude. So I want to express today my gratitude to the University, and to all of those – Hazel Cameron in particular – who have been involved in this. It’s been a wonderful experience.

Now I want to return to you…

We talk about this as ‘graduation day’, and it is indeed, but there’s another term – a really better term, more descriptive – and that is ‘commencement day’. Because graduation is the end, in a sense, of some things, but it’s really the beginning of so many others. It’s a ‘commencement’ and, as you go out into the world, you will find many paths, you won’t know necessarily which one is going to be the best for you, and you will have doubts: and that’s fine. You will, I think, over time discover your own way, make your own mark and contribute in your own fashion.

So, as you venture out on that journey I have these wishes for you: that you be in good health, that you enjoy your life, that you do some good in the world and that, if the mood strikes you, you stay in touch with your University… and perhaps now I can say ‘our University’.

Thank you very much.