MEMORIES of family life in Oxford helped to sustain Aung San Suu Kyi through her darkest hours in captivity she revealed.
The Burmese democracy leader, back in the city after a 24-year absence, was given a standing ovation as she addressed about 1,000 people at an honorary degree ceremony at Oxford University.
Hundreds of supporters packed the streets outside Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre in the hope of catching a glimpse of Ms Suu Kyi.
Sandy Thin Mar Oo, 40, of Friar’s Wharf, Oxford, and a spokesman for Oxford Burma Benefit Fund was among them. She was was with her daughter Susan Nyein Su Eain, 11, from Oxford, niece Monica Myint, eight, and friend Zun Zun Sithu, 28.
Ms Thin Mar Oo said: “I have been here two days running and we have brought some of our paintings of Ms Suu Kyi.”
Burmese hotel worker Soe Naing, 40, travelled from London to see her. He said: “I want to see her become president of my country.”
At the Encaenia ceremony, Ms Suu Kyi told how her experiences in Oxford helped her cope with the challenges she had to face after she returned to Burma in 1988, when she was placed under house arrest by the military regime.
And she told the Oxford Mail that she had enjoyed being reunited with her family at her 67th birthday party at St Hugh’s College on Tuesday.
Ms Suu Kyi’s husband, Tibet scholar Michael Aris, brought up their sons Alexander and Kim at their home in Park Town, North Oxford, after she was summoned back to Burma. He died from cancer in 1999.
In a break with tradition, the chairman of the Burmese National League for Democracy was invited to give a speech after receiving her honorary doctorate in civil law.
She said: “Today, many strands of my life have come together. The years that I spent as a student at St Hugh’s, the years that I spent in 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.
“During the most difficult years I was upheld by memories of Oxford.
“These were among the most important inner resources that helped me to cope with all the challenges I had to face.”
She said she cherished her time at St Hugh’s College where she read philosophy, politics and economics, from 1964-67, and formed “simple” but “very precious” memories of spending time with her friends.
Turning to one of the other honorands, author David Cornwell, better known as spy writer John le Carré, Ms Suu Kyi added: “When I was under house arrest I was also helped by the books of John le Carré – they were a journey into the wider world.”
Concluding her speech, Ms Suu Kyi said: “Oxford, I know, expects the best of its own and, today, because they have recognised me as its very own, I am strengthened to go forward and to give of my very best in meeting the new challenges that lie ahead.”
Oxford University Vice-Chancellor Prof Andrew Hamilton said: “We have the honour of welcoming an alumna who is one of the great figures of the 20th and 21st centuries.”
Public Orator Prof Richard Jenkyns told Ms Suu Kyi: “Here you studied and formed friendships, here you knew the delights of youth, here as a wife and mother you lived a quiet domestic life, until your love of country and passion for the cause of freedom summoned you back.
“But you were forced to leave behind a beloved husband, and children.
“For many years you bore the burden of isolation, displaying patience and endurance to a degree not easily imagined.”
Ms Suu Kyi was first awarded the honorary doctorate by the university in 1993.