An award-winning author and the first director of the Macrobert Arts Centre have both spoken of their pride after receiving honorary degrees at the University of Stirling.
Dr James Robertson – a novelist, poet, editor and publisher who grew up in nearby Bridge of Allan – and Anthony Phillips, who oversaw the creation of the Macrobert in the early 1970s, became honorary graduates at Stirling’s winter ceremonies on Friday, 24 November.
It was a poignant moment for both men as they returned to the University in its 50th anniversary year.
Dr Robertson said: “I’m really pleased to have this honorary degree from the University of Stirling - partly because it feels like coming home - and also because I have had quite a lot of association with the University over the years.
“I have come and given lectures and talks and feel very closely associated with the ethos of this University - I like its internationalism, its openness and the way it challenges students to study and think about their wider place in the world. It feels like the place to be.”
Dr Robertson has published six novels to date, including ‘The Testament of Gideon Mack’, which was long-listed for the 2006 Man Booker Prize, and ‘And the Land Lay Still’, the Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year in 2010. He is recognised by Stirling for his outstanding contribution to writing in Scotland, for his work to extend the use of the Scots language, and for his role in highlighting the importance of political activism and participation.
Casting his mind back to his early years in Bridge of Allan, Dr Robertson fondly remembers childhood bike rides to the Stirling campus.
“I was conscious of the University being built as a wee boy. I used to come down and cycle around, watching the buildings going up,” he explained. “When I was a bit older, I used to come into the University, to the Macrobert Centre, and watch the student life go on around about me. It was exciting and it felt to me like this was a world of possibilities - and it still feels like that.”
He added: “I would describe the University of Stirling as being open to people from everywhere but it’s also rooted in its place – it feels like it’s quite a homely place with a local feel to it, as well as being a place that’s open to people from everywhere in the world.”
Mr Phillips was appointed as the Macrobert’s first director in 1970 – before the centre was built – and was pivotal in making the arts central to the lives of staff, students and the community.
He received the award of Doctor of the University for his role in the creation of the centre, and for his major contribution to classical music administration and scholarship, through his editing and translation of the literary legacy of leading Soviet-era composers.
Reflecting on becoming an honorary graduate, Mr Phillips said: “It was a mixture of incredulity, delight, pleasure and pride in almost equal proportions. It was the first time in my life that I had this particular cocktail of emotions all wrapped up in one thing.”
Mr Phillips had some advice for the 800 students graduating from Stirling’s winter ceremonies, saying: “In the university environment you have the opportunity to think for yourself, not just to collect facts and information.
“It is more and more important than it ever was to keep your own judgement and make your own mind up – and I think that’s the greatest value that a university can provide.”
Dr Robertson added: “If I were giving advice to today’s graduates, I think I would say you have to focus on what you want to do – not necessarily in your career – but what you want to get out of life, but also what you want to put into life.
“I feel the more generous you are in your outlook towards the world, the more the world will be generous to you.”