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The Visit – 27th September 2010

This has been a week of visits and reunions, the city filled with generations of Oxonians, and my own diary punctuated with short speeches to Somerville and other alumni, not least, on Friday, to the first group of our 2010 graduates to take their degrees.  It was a wonderful chance to celebrate their accomplishments and wish them well in their future careers.  Some have already embarked, some are taking a year off to travel, some still searching for jobs.  It is an anxious time to be hunting for a job, but I know these vibrant and accomplished Somervillians will find their way and make their mark.  They should be very proud of achieving their Oxford degrees, and of all the hard work it took to reach this point.  Celebrating with their families over a champagne tea in the college’s hall was a high point of the week.

Another  high point for me personally came the next day, on 25 September.  This was the date fixed for my official installation as Principal of Somerville. I suppose until now I have been less than official, although it certainly feels as though I’ve been doing the job for the past month.  The Visitor of the college is our Chancellor Lord Patten, and he and Lady Patten came to join with the Fellows and Emeritus Fellows for a very short ceremony.  After a short pause en route to the Senior Common Room to take a look at the magnificent vintage convertible Vauxhall parked in the quad (property of our Professor of Engineering, Richard Stone), I was presented to the Visitor by our Senior Fellow, the philosopher Lesley Brown, and declared that I would “faithfully perform the duties of my office as Principal of Somerville College, and will observe the Statutes and Bye-laws of the College”. Lord Patten signed a letter recording that I had so declared.  Like so much that happens at Somerville, the event itself was informal and unpretentious, and followed by delicious food and drink and lots of lively conversation.  I felt that I couldn’t ask for a more enjoyable job, nor a better welcome at its start. 

But what, we asked ourselves, does the role of Visitor, performed by Lord Patten with such charm and aplomb, really mean?  He himself seems to be uncertain of it, except to say that he aims to visit each of the six colleges where he fills this role more often than he visits others.  Great.  I am forming plans already for future Visits: to lead students in discussion of careers in public life, perhaps, or talk to Fellows about our ambition to raise more international support for the college.  Somerville, after all, has a fine tradition of international engagement, and has boasted an international student body since its earliest days.  We could hardly hope for a Visitor with more illustrious international credentials than the former Governor of Hong Kong and EU Commissioner.  So visit us often, Lord and Lady Patten, and we will promise you a welcome as warm as on the day you came to welcome me into my new role at Oxford.

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