Thai princess receives honorary degree from NIU

DeKALB — It's not every day a princess visits Northern Illinois University.

But Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand came to NIU to receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters. She was chosen for the degree in the spring because of her humanitarian efforts and worldwide prominence as a scholar, but NIU officials welcomed her with Wednesday with pomp and circumstance.

In the beginning of the almost hour-long ceremony, dozens of faculty, staff, students in the Altgeld Hall auditorium stood as Sirindhorn made her way to the stage while musicians played classical music.

Sirindhorn, known as the "princess of technology" for her interest in using science and technology to help the people of Thailand, was dressed in academic regalia similar to that of the NIU administration and Board of Trustee members. 

"She has placed great importance on science education knowing that applications of science will drive her country's development," NIU President Douglas Baker said. 

Sirindhorn, 58, is the second eldest daughter of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and is part of the Chakri Dynasty that was founded in 1782. She has earned advanced degrees in history, Oriental Epigraphy and Development Education throughout her academic career. 

Sirindhorn has taught at the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy and several universities in Thailand, where she has lectured on subjects ranging from South East Asian history to contemporary world history. Education, especially for people who are poor or disadvantaged, has always been important for her.

"The purpose of studying education is to try to provide every child ... the opportunity to have good education to the highest level and the fullest of the child's capacity," she said. 

Her visit to the NIU campus coincides with the university's 50th anniversary of the Center for Southeast Asia Studies. The center, which celebrated its anniversary in March, has advanced the study of Southeast Asian countries and has entered into cooperative relationships with universities in Thailand. 

Clark Neher, who once served as the director of the center and presently is president of the DeKalb Public Library board, said NIU has played a major role in fostering ties between the United States and Thailand.

"By awarding an honorary doctor to Her Royal Highness Princess Sirindhorn, we shine a light on Her Royal Highness and the enduring relationship between her country and our institution," he said. 

Sirindhorn shared a similar sentiment in her appreciation for NIU's honorary degree. 

"A friendship among different cultures no matter how far and how different they we are... we can always be good friends," she said.