Stephen Fry was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Sussex Chancellor, Sanjeev Bhaskar, at the winter graduation ceremony on Friday 28 January.
Joined by almost 1,000 students, he received the doctorate at the ceremony at Brighton Dome for his campaigning for sufferers of HIV/AIDS, mental health problems and bipolar disorder.
Stating “he couldn’t be happier or prouder” with his honorary doctorate, Fry already has honorary degrees from Anglia Ruskin University, University of Cambridge and a doctorate from the University of Dundee.
He is a well-established author, actor, poet, journalist and comedian. Most famous for his appearances in Blackadder and as television host of QI, he is recognised for his contributions towards British entertainment, fundraising and campaigning.
As a diagnosed sufferer of bipolar disorder, Fry suffered a nervous breakdown in 1995 and was for a time he admitted, contemplating suicide.
Parades of ironed robes marched through the aisles as the graduation began to a brass band and amongst the Sussex alumni was Stephen Fry himself. This year 937 students graduated – an increase of 256 from last year’s 681.
There was a prepared “You’ve done it!” video for the graduates featuring disco music and unexpected footage around Falmer bar and the library conveyor belts.
One student broke up the festivities by sticking his middle finger up at an alumnus member whilst collecting his scroll, to which all officials looked round to see who the victim was.
There was another uneasy moment during the introduction of Stephen Fry, where the spokesperson congratulated Fry on his sexual achievements this year, not to mention his academic ones. With weak relief, a roaring crowd accompanied Fry’s relay to the podium and he gave his speech.
He began by saying “I’ve never had any great ambition in my life” and later added that it was “the greatest curse to stop being a student”.
Fry spoke at length about Oscar Wilde, drawing parallels with the writer, who was, according to Fry, “someone who had a particular affinity with Brighton”.
The QI presenter commented on students now having posters of Karl Marx and Che Guevara on their walls, of students who had pictures of bands on their t-shirts, believing that “music can save our souls”. Why not, he said, have pictures of Albert Einstein and Oscar Wilde, for they have not been forgotten, “for they are our true originals, the true bohemians”.
Fry also discussed his darkest moments amidst his depression. He described the despair and terror of knowing that “one can no longer go on”.
As words of advice, and what felt like an extremely moving conclusion, Fry said: “So when you encounter these times in the life that lies ahead of you, and there will be those times…When you feel like this, when you are depressed. Think of Oscar. And think, of always being bohemian.” He concluded: “I accept this degree with immense pride. Thank you Sussex.”
Commenting on the ceremony, Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Farthing, said: “It is wonderful to welcome students, their families and friends to the biggest winter graduation ceremonies to date for the University of Sussex.
“The university is delighted to recognise the enormous achievements in both the arts and the sciences, as represented by Stephen Fry and Professor David.”
Stephen Fry awarded honorary doctorate