Princess presented with honorary degree

DeKALB — Altgeld Hall is often referred to as Northern Illinois University’s “castle,” but it’s not every day a real princess sets foot inside.

On Wednesday, Sept. 18, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the university in a special ceremony at Altgeld.

The princess was presented with the degree because of her humanitarian work in Thailand and her reputation as a scholar. In Thailand, she is often known as the “princess of technology” for her interest in helping people through science.

“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. She has taught at several Thai universities.

“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. 

An exhibit of Thai and Burmese artifacts from the university’s collection was displayed in Altgeld Sept. 18 and 19 to coincide with the princess’s visit. Professor Catherine Raymond, who curated the exhibit, said Sirindhorn told her how she had learned to work with lacquer, a natural plastic made from tree resin common in Southeast Asian artifacts. While admiring papier mache masks for the Ramakien, a Thai dance performance of the Hindu epic the Ramayana, the princess also told Raymond about playing for a performance of the dance in Chicago.

“She still plays music, and she played for more than two hours with this orchestra,” Raymond said. “She was very interesting.”