NIU awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree on Wednesday to Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand, who addressed an audience of about 300 people during the ceremony.
“As I travel to many countries, I think we should share our experiences and learn from one another,” Her Royal Highness said. “I appreciate NIU for rewarding understanding and friendship between cultures.”
Her Royal Highness, who holds a doctorate in educational development and heads the history department of the Royal Thai Army military academy, noted that NIU’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies has contributed to the world’s understanding of the region.
“It is my first visit to NIU,” she said. “In fact, I’ve known of the university for a long time.”
NIU President Doug Baker called Thailand “a great jewel of Southeast Asia.”
“It is fitting that we are being graced with a visit from a princess of Thailand this year, as NIU celebrates the 50th anniversary of our world-renowned Center for Southeast Asian Studies,” Baker said. “For five decades, the center has focused on this region of the globe through academic programs, faculty research and outreach initiatives.
“While oceans and more than 8,500 miles separate DeKalb, Illinois, from the Thai capital of Bangkok, we here at NIU feel a close connection to Thailand and its people,” he added.
Baker cited the “extensive record of accomplishment” of Her Royal Highness. He noted she has worked in heritage protection, development of traditional Thai music and creation of an electronic corpus of the modern Thai language. She also established Chulalongkorn University’s Sirindhorn Thai Language Institute, promoting teaching, learning and assessment of the Thai language.
The NIU president also highlighted the involvement by Her Royal Highness in the Thai Red Cross Society and in organizations promoting education, cultural preservation, support for disabled veterans, development projects and environmental preservation. She serves as president of a foundation awarding prizes annually to members of the international community for outstanding contributions to medicine and public health.
Other speakers at the event included NIU Professor Emeritus Clark Neher, an internationally recognized specialist in Southeast Asian politics, with an emphasis on Thailand. He previously served as CSEAS director and lived for six years in Bangkok.
“Northern Illinois University is a focus for Thai studies, and thousands of American and international students who have studied here or learned from Northern graduates have gained knowledge about and respect for the kingdom,” Neher said. “On this special occasion, we congratulate and honor Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. By this celebration, we know that our relationship will continue to progress and flourish.”