Before a crowd of hundreds in stately Bridges Hall of Music, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand today received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree from Pomona College, in Claremont, Calif., in recognition of her distinguished career as a scholar and her philanthropic work in Thailand and around the world.
The ceremony capped a two-day visit by Princess Sirindhorn and a delegation of educational leaders from Thailand to Pomona College, Harvey Mudd College and Claremont McKenna College, for discussions with the college presidents, faculty and students about the value and benefits of a liberal arts education.
At Pomona College, Princess Sirindhorn met with faculty members for a wide-ranging discussion that ranged from neuroscience to music to economics and beyond. Taking notes along the way, the Princess also visited Pomona's chemistry labs to hear students Gabriella Heller '14, Hannah Wayment-Steele '15 and Constance Wu '14 explain their undergraduate research.
Art Professor Mercedes Teixido welcomed Princess Sirindhorn into her drawing class, where students were undertaking the challenging task of working with negative space. At Pomona's Oldenborg Center for Modern Languages and International Relations, the Princess met with Thai students from throughout The Claremont Colleges.
The central event of the royal visit came mid-day Tuesday in Pomona's century-old Bridges Hall of Music, where Princess Sirindhorn was presented with the honorary degree as President David Oxtoby noted the longstanding and growing ties between the College and Thailand. Also speaking were Pomona College Trustee Bernard Chan '88, a key governmental and business leader in Hong Kong with deep family ties to Thailand, and Pomona Politics and Government Professor John Seery, who has visited Thailand to discuss the liberal arts.
Student speaker Witisada Wattananimitgul '16 says her parents were "speechless" when they learned their daughter would be taking part in the princess's visit. "We told our [extended] family in Thailand, and they didn't believe it either."
"It was pretty surreal," says Wattananimitgul , whose immediate family came from Arizona to join her at the event. "This was a great opportunity for my family and I."
Princess Sirindhorn is a member of the royal family of Thailand, the third child of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit. She is currently director of the Department of History at the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy.
As a scholar, the Princess has worked in heritage protection, development of traditional Thai music and creation of an electronic corpus of the modern Thai language. In 2007, she established the Sirindhorn Thai Language Institute at Chulalongkorn University to promote teaching, learning and assessment of the Thai language. She speaks Thai, English, French, Chinese and German and is a scholar of Pali, Sanskrit and Cambodian.
Her Royal Highness is active in development and philanthropic works around the world, with projects focusing on education and nutrition for marginalized populations and people in need. She is executive vice president of the Thai Red Cross Society and serves as president of a foundation awarding prizes annually to members of the international community for outstanding contributions to medicine and public health. She also runs several philanthropic organizations and foundations promoting Thai culture and higher education, protecting the environment and supporting disabled veterans. The Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Foundation, established in 1979, supports disadvantaged students in schools, vocational colleges and universities.
She also works on behalf of several international organizations, including the World Health Organization, the Health Advisory Board of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at The Johns Hopkins University, the Council of Refugee Education Trust, UNESCO and the United Nations World Food Programme. Among the international awards she has received are the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service and the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development.
Her Royal Highness earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Chulalongkorn University with first class honors and a gold medal in history, Master of Arts degrees in Oriental Epigraphy from Silpakorn University and in Pali-Sanskrit from Chulalongkorn University, and a doctoral degree in development education from Srinakharinwirot University.
Pomona College, founded in 1887, is one of the nation's premier liberal arts colleges. Known for academic excellence and the close relationships between faculty and students, the College has a long-standing commitment to international education with rigorous academic programs in such fields as International Relations, Asian Studies, Latin American Studies and Middle Eastern Studies; the uniquely blended programmatic and residential facilities of the Oldenborg Center for Modern Languages and International Relations; and study abroad programs on every continent but Antarctica.