LSE has hosted some of the world’s most high profile statespeople. Alan Revel look back to when two of the most memorable in recent years visited the School on consecutive days in June 2012: Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama.
Not many universities can boast visits from two Nobel Peace Prize winners in two days so, although it involved a huge amount of work behind the scenes to coordinate the events and deal with the extraordinary amount of interest from the LSE community, the general public and the media, it was a great privilege for everyone involved.
The Burmese democracy campaigner, who had spent much of her life under house arrest, was making her first visit to the UK in 24 years and we had invited her to LSE to make her first public speech of the trip. It was a unique event and attracted massive media interest, including live television coverage on most UK news channels. The excitement in the Peacock Theatre was such that the audience leapt to their feet to give her a standing ovation as she came on stage to speak.
At the end of the event LSE Director Judith Rees reminded the audience that it was Aung San Suu Kyi’s 67th birthday and that it was a cause for celebration that she was able to enjoy the day in freedom. Professor Rees invited the crowd to sing Happy Birthday, adding: “It’s a tribute not just to you but to all those who have campaigned for freedom in Burma.” Alex Peters-Day, General Secretary of LSE’s Students’ Union, also presented her with a surprise present – a photograph of her late father taken in London in 1947 – and with an LSE baseball cap, a traditional gift for visiting leaders, which she willingly put on. The panel discussion also involved LSE professors Mary Kaldor and Christine Chinkin, Burmese activist and visiting fellow Dr Maung Zarni, Oxford professor Nicola Lacey and barrister Sir Geoffrey Nice QC.
Professor Kaldor ended the event by passing on a question from a student who had asked Aung San Suu Kyi how she had found her strength to continue her campaigning. She answered: “It’s all of you, and people like you, who give me the strength to continue. And I suppose I have a stubborn streak in me.”
The following day, His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited LSE to deliver the opening speech of a one day conference, Tolerance in a Just and Fair Society, at the invitation of LSE along with the Frederick Bonnart Braunthal Trust, Matrix Chambers and the Sigrid Rausing Trust.
Tenzin Gyatso is the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people and had, in 2011, completed the process of democratisation of the Central Tibetan Administration by devolving all his political authorities to the elected leadership. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 in recognition of his opposition to the use of violence in the Tibetan struggle and his work internationally for peace, human rights issues and global environmental problems.
The Dalai Lama spoke to a packed audience about intolerance and how to overcome it. He said: “Everyone has every right to happiness”, suggesting that joyfulness is the true purpose of life. He proposed strategies for avoiding violence which included the cultivation of a calm mind to view issues clearly. At the end of his address, he was also presented with the customary LSE baseball cap.
It was the most exhausting two days, but the privilege of hosting two towering figures of the modern era and witnessing the elated reaction of both audiences was extremely rewarding. It is days like these which remind you why working at LSE is unlike working anywhere else.
For those who were not able to attend, then both of these events, along with many more are available to watch and listen to.