IRISH President Michael D Higgins has spoken of the value of education as he received an honorary degree from the University of Liverpool this afternoon.
At the conferral ceremony in the city’s Philharmonic Hall, he spoke to the future generation of bright minds, telling the hall full of graduates how he had become the first member of his family to attend university.
President Higgins added that at the time a secondary education in Ireland was a privilege, whilst further education was regarded as being within the reach of only the wealthy and elite.
“The experience of a person such as me in a university, in the 1960s, was a mixed one,” he said.
“It is something that many who were the first in their family to push open that important door to third level education would recognise and I am sure some may still recognise this experience today.”
Before delivering his address to the new arts, humanities and social sciences graduates, the President was also invited to sign the Roll of Honorary Graduates.
The University of Liverpool has welcomed many Irish students over the years with its newest graduate being celebrated when President Higgins was called to the stage to receive his honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
With his wife Sabina looking on from the audience with pride, the Irish head of state was greeted by the university’s Vice Chancellor and a backdrop of emphatic applause.
In his address to those in attendance, he said: “I am greatly honoured to receive this honorary degree from the University of Liverpool and to know that I join such an impressive and prestigious roll call of previous recipients of this honour.
“The university has much to be proud of and has achieved considerable success in opening the gates of possibility for students from traditionally low participation neighbourhoods.”
In his speech he also echoed the importance of education and how, at university level, it awards individuals a source of “personal liberation and empowerment.”
But he warned that in today’s society, education is sometimes undervalued and regarded as a “commodity.”
During the ceremony, the celebratory wave of an Irish flag by a member of the audience was a welcoming gesture to both attendees and the presidential party in the 1,790 capacity hall.
President Higgins also stressed the significance of today’s ceremony, with the students graduating into a society facing challenges such as climate change, global poverty and the threat of extremism.
Following the ceremony, President Higgins was introduced to representatives and students of the university’s Institute of Irish Studies, including the incoming Institute Director and Blair Chair Professor Peter Shirlow.
Professor Shirlow replaces Professor Marianne Elliott, who retired from the position in January, when he takes up his role on August 1.
The President's official visit will be rounded off with a celebrator dinner this evening for honorary graduates, which will also be attended by dignitaries and members of Liverpool’s Irish community.
This is President Higgins’ second visit to Liverpool.
He last visited in November 2012.
Earlier today he visited the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace Centre in Warrington.
There he addressed the parents of a young IRA bombing victim, during his first official visit to the town.