In 1965, the University of the West Indies (UWI) gave its first Honorary Degree to the Chancellor of London University, Queen Elizabeth, mother of the reigning British monarch Queen Elizabeth 2. London had nurtured the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) until it gained its independence in 1962.
The following year, 1966, fifty years ago, the UWI spread its net far wider, honouring five men from across the region and the world. Four of the awards were made on Saturday 12 March 1966 – the first, to former Jamaican Prime Minister, Sir Alexander Bustamante in a private ceremony at Jamaica House attended by UWI dignitaries, Acting Prime Minister Donald Sangster and Trinidad & Tobago Prime Minister, also UWI Pro-Chancellor Eric Williams. Hours later, Williams, along with former UWI Vice-Chancellor Sir Arthur Lewis and former Birmingham University, UK Vice-Chancellor Sir Raymond Priestley, also received degrees towards the end of the UWI graduation ceremony. The ceremony marked the elevation of the first crop of graduates holding degrees from the independent UWI. Prior graduates had received degrees in association with the University of London.
Replying on behalf of the honorees, Sir Arthur, then a Professor at Princeton University, USA, noted the university’s special role in the West Indies where it made a regional impact just by its existence as well as by producing leaders of the future. According to a Gleaner newspaper report of April 16, he also commented that the university had a particular interest in politicians from the dual standpoint of what the university could do for politicians as well as what politicians could do for the university.
The fifth Honorary Degree of 1966 was awarded on April 22 in a special ceremony, to Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, during a state visit to Jamaica.