- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 20, 2012

OXFORD, England (AP) — It was a long wait, but Myanmar opposition leader Aung SanSuu Kyi finally received her honorary degree from the University of Oxford.

In a speech, Mrs. Suu Kyi praised the role Oxford played in helping her see humankind at its best during her long years under house arrest in Myanmar.

“The most important thing that I learned was respect for all of civilization,” she said, wearing a traditional red academic gown and black hat. “In Oxford I learned to respect all that is best in human civilization. That helped me cope with something that was not quite the best.”

She said “the saddest thing” about Myanmar is that its young people do not get to have a similar college experience because university life has been “shattered.”

Mrs. Suu Kyi was honored Wednesday at the university’s Encaenia ceremony, in which it presents honorary degrees to distinguished people.

Mrs. Suu Kyi said the Oxford visit brought back strong memories of her carefree student days.

“I didn’t feel any different from then,” she said, recalling idyllic summer days spent reading outside in Oxford.

Author John le Carre also was honored, and Mrs. Suu Kyi praised his novels during her speech, saying they helped ward off a sense of isolation while she was unable to travel.

Mrs. Suu Kyi, who is making her first visits outside of her native country in 24 years, was awarded the honorary doctorate in civil law in 1993 but was unable to collect it. She smiled as she received the degree while hundreds applauded.

The ceremony capped an emotional homecoming to Oxford, where Mrs. Suu Kyi studied philosophy, politics and economics between 1964 and 1967. She lived in Oxford for many years with her late husband, the Tibet scholar Michael Aris, and their sons, Alexander and Kim.

Historian Peter Carey, a family friend, said the trip is “partly a walk down memory lane; it’s partly a very powerful homecoming to something that was a third of her life.”

He said her late husband always was optimistic about the prospect of political change in Myanmar and did not expect his wife to be trapped there for so long.

“He always said to me: ‘Peter, it’s not so long now. It’s just around the corner,’” Mr. Carey said.

Aris died of cancer in 1999, having been denied a visa to visit his wife in Myanmar while he was ill.

Mrs. Suu Kyi celebrated her 67th birthday Tuesday when she met briefly with the Dalai Lama, who also is visiting England. The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, who is 76, tweeted a photo of the meeting Wednesday morning.

In a message posted to his website, he said the two Nobel laureates had met privately for about 30 minutes. He said he had told Mrs. Suu Kyi he had “real admiration for your courage” and that he believed she would be of “great service to humanity.”

Gregory Katz reported from London. Associated Press writer Jill Lawless contributed to this report.

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