Novelists, athletes and golfing heroes receive honorary degrees

Golfer Sam Torrance was honoured at the University of St Andrews while Douglas Stuart and Laura Muir received degrees from the University of Glasgow.

Famous novelists, athletes and golfing heroes were among those to receive honorary degrees from top Scottish universities on Wednesday.

Shuggie Bain writer Douglas Stuart said it was “a lovely thing to be recognised by your home town”, as he was presented with the accolade at the University of Glasgow.

Olympic athlete Laura Muir, also a graduate of the university, was also presented with an honorary degree at the commemoration day event on Wednesday.

The famous Scots were joined by fellow recipient Professor Sir Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, who saw the country through the coronavirus pandemic.

The special ceremony was created to honour the foundation of the university in 1451.

Meanwhile, at the University of St Andrews golfer Sam Torrance was presented with an honorary degree.

After a special ceremony in the famous golfing town, he said: “I left school 56 years ago. So I guess I’m a kind of slow learner. But it was magnificent to watch all the students come up, the pride in their faces. It was really beautiful. This is the only place I would have accepted one. It is one of my most favourite places in the world. Or my favourite golf course as it has ever been.

“I’m very happy here. I’ll look back on this and remember it forever. So it’s a great honour for my family, for me.”

The golfer and commentator was one of the leading players on the European Tour from the mid-1970s to the late 1990.

Stuart won the Booker Prize in 2020 with his debut novel Shuggie Bain.

The book is set in 1980s Glasgow and is about a young boy growing up amid addiction and poverty, while his second book Young Mungo was published last year.

Speaking after the University of Glasgow ceremony, he said: “I’m just incredibly proud to get the honorary degree from Glasgow University.

“Glasgow is my home town and I grew up about two miles from the university, but as a young man growing up I didn’t feel like university life was for me, and so to be here today, I’m just very proud, I think my ancestors would be proud, I hope my family are proud.

“Every word in my novels is inspired by the city of Glasgow so it is a lovely thing to be recognised by your home town and to make a little bit of history here.”

Stuart has an MA from the Royal College of Art in London and has lived in New York City since 2000, where he has worked in fashion.

He is now writing his third novel, and is also working on adapting Young Mungo and Shuggie Bain for the screen with production company A24.

The writer said his new book will explore some of the themes of his previous novels to form a kind of “tapestry”.

He said: “My third novel I’m hoping will be part of a triptych of the work that I’ve been writing about, about Scottish masculinity, about loneliness, about how the country changed under successive governments, and at the same time how young Scottish men came of age, especially when they were on the margins, especially when they felt the loneliness that came from being queer in a country that was evolving quite quickly.

“So although it won’t be part of a trilogy – my first two novels are not connected in that way – I think it will make some kind of tapestry, some kind of triptych, and I’m excited to finish it.”

Stuart said that although he lives in New York, there is “no place like Glasgow in the world”.

He said: “I come home all the time, my family still live in the streets that I write about and whenever I feel a bit lost or I feel a bit confused or I feel like I’m not making sense in the world, I come home to Glasgow and I can be exactly myself, so I’m home in Glasgow all the time.”

Muir graduated as a vet from the University of Glasgow in 2018 before going on to win silver in the 1,500 metres at the Olympics in Tokyo, which were held a year late in 2021 because of the Covid pandemic.

Speaking at the university on Wednesday, she said: “It’s a huge, huge honour, I didn’t think I’d be coming back here five years after graduating in 2018 to receive another award, so very, very honoured to be here today.”

Others awarded with honorary degrees on Wednesday included Mamphela Ramphele, an academic and anti-apartheid activist, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, an economist and director-general of the World Trade Organisation.

Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow, said: “I’m really delighted to welcome such distinguished individuals from a whole spectrum of backgrounds and disciplines to our university community.

“Awarding honorary degrees is a way for the university to recognise world-changing achievements and celebrate the successes of these individuals.”

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