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'Many Strands' Of Suu Kyi's Life Unite In Oxford

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'Many Strands' Of Suu Kyi's Life Unite In Oxford

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'Many Strands' Of Suu Kyi's Life Unite In Oxford

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Aung San Suu Kyi returned to her alma mater today, Oxford University in England, to receive an honorary degree. It's a degree she was unable to collect for more than a decade because she was under house arrest in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Suu Kyi studied at Oxford in the 1960s. She also met her late husband there and stayed to raise a family before becoming the leader of her home country's struggle for freedom.

Her friends say she would not be the symbol of Burma's quest for democracy without her experiences at Oxford. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from the university.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Dressed in a scarlet robe and black felt bonnet, Suu Kyi received her honorary doctorate of civil law at a commencement ceremony in Oxford's Sheldonian Theater. Harking back to Oxford's medieval traditions, Professor Richard Jenkyns welcomed her back in Latin.

RICHARD JENKYNS: (Foreign language spoken).

KUHN: Of necessity, a return here is a public event observed by many eyes, he remarked, but we do not forget that you are also coming back to your old home and to a city full of memories.

Indeed, Suu Kyi seemed visibly more at home at Oxford as she explained her feelings about her return.

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: Today, many strands of my life have come together. The years that I spent as a student at St. Hugh's, the years I spent at Park Town as a wife and mother, the years I spent under house arrest when my university, the University of Oxford, stood up and spoke up for me.

KUHN: Suu Kyi studied at Oxford's St. Hugh's College from 1964 to 1967. Peter Carey, a family friend from those days, says that Suu Kyi started out with a solid understanding of Burmese traditions, to which she added an Oxonian toolkit of intellectual and analytical skills.

PETER CAREY: There's a particular Oxford value system. There's a particular way of looking at the world and she brought that way of looking at the world. She brought that quality of intellectual honesty and clarity of mind into Burmese politics and I think that's what made her so refreshing.

KUHN: In the 1970s, Suu Kyi married British academic Michael Aris and settled down to raise their two sons in a townhouse in North Oxford's Park Town neighborhood. Peter Carey says that Suu Kyi knew she was not just the daughter of Burmese independence hero General Aung San, but also the daughter of destiny.

She told her husband that her duty to her country might someday separate them, which it did when she returned to Burma in 1988. As he was dying of cancer in 1999, Suu Kyi did not leave the country to see him or her two sons for fear that she might not be allowed back in.

CAREY: This has been a huge sacrifice, sacrifice of her family, sacrifice of her husband, sacrifice of a very nice, cozy existence in North Oxford and many people would not have made that sacrifice.

KUHN: Today, Suu Kyi repeated her concern that recent political reforms at home have dazzled the outside world into thinking that Burma is a free country and that the road ahead will be smooth.

KYI: Too many people are expecting too much from Burma at this moment. They think that the road where we are standing is like one of those highways on which I traveled from London to Oxford and almost got carsick.

KUHN: The university's orator, Professor Richard Jenkyns, acknowledged this, saying that her friends, family and supporters at Oxford will continue to watch her progress with great expectations and a measure of concern.

JENKYNS: (Foreign language spoken).

KUHN: Sitting in this theater, he concluded, we are conscious that we are also spectators of a drama played out in the theater of nations, one whose ending is, as yet, unsure. And so, for now, we wait and hope and pray.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Oxford.

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