All over the world, there are countless examples of honorary awards and accolades of the highest order being dished out to celebrities, distinguished individuals and some of the most talented men and women that have ever graced the planet with their presence. They haven’t had to study in a university. Instead they have been rewarded simply for their valuable, real-life experience.
Special persons of interest make the honorary cut these days in a myriad of fields and forms, such as making a recognisable contribution to a worthy cause, conducting ground-breaking research on a particular topic, or excelling in a specific industry. It all comes down to an accumulation of evidence that proves he or she, whoever it may be, has become an exemplary contender for endeavour, by succeeding in learning something that is considered important on a local, national or even global level.
The story of Helen Keller
It’s no secret that times have dramatically changed since Oxford University awarded the first ever recorded honorary degree in Europe during the late 15th century. In America, it wasn’t until 1692, when Harvard granted similar academic entitlements to an exclusively gentlemen-only club of gifted, yet undoubtedly privileged individuals. For women, the wait felt much longer. Helen Keller became the first female to receive an honorary award from Harvard in 1955 at the age of 75, after an incredible lifetime of achievement.
According to Harvard Magazine, Keller was diagnosed as deaf and blind in early infancy, but she gained worldwide recognition when she was only 7 years old for her outstanding ability to communicate using the finger alphabet. She later became accepted at Radcliffe College, where she excelled at writing and even published her famous autobiography The Story of My Life before she graduated in 1904, which also made her the first deaf and blind woman to successfully complete a Bachelor of Arts degree. Five years later, she brought out a series of personal essays collectivelyentitled The World I Live In. Among many other achievements to come, these two titles were cherished by some of the most prominent literary critics and scientists of the day for their powerful and insightful portrayal of humanity.
Not only did Keller become an esteemed writer, she was a keen socialist, an ardent feminist and a dedicated philanthropist for the deaf and blind throughout the remainder of her life. When she became the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate of laws, it couldn’t have been accompanied by a more apt citation:
“From a still, dark world she has brought us light and sound; our lives are richer for her faith and her example.”
The fact that such a woman’s accomplishments became recognised in the eyes of academia, however, proved beyond any doubt that the advances which had reshaped the honorary degree system since its inauguration were altogether undeniable.
In 1959, The Harvard Crimson reflected that the honorary doctorate system had indeed experienced a radical change in terms of the calibre of awards and the broad variety of qualifications that were now being issued to recipients. No longer was it a limited domain for strictly theological occupations, it encompassed an open platform that invited philosophical, historical, scientific, poetic and literary achievement of all kinds.
A qualification for every walk of life
This is even more pertinent today as we see no clear line of resemblance between who and what manner of honorary awards are granted in the modern world. Vocations range far and wide, from Nelson Mandela, a globally revered political figure who vehemently fought against the apartheid regime in South Africa, to Muhammad Ali who literally battled his way to becoming the greatest heavyweight boxing champion in the world, while at the same time, undertook his own metaphorical fight for morality by becoming an admirable advocate of freedom, equal rights and justice for all mankind.
From powerful industry tycoons as dissimilar as Steven Spielberg and Bill Gates to those amazing individuals who went from “rags to riches”, such as Oprah Winfrey or J.K. Rowling, and ultimately became household names.
Legendary acting performances as disparate in kind as Meryl Streep is from Kermit the Frog, the latter of which was the first recipient to ever obtain an Honorary Doctorate of Amphibious Letters.
From the inspiring generational impact of ex-Beatle, Sir Paul McCartney who was awarded an honorary doctorate in music for his song writing contributions to one of the most popular and revolutionary bands the world has ever seen, to Kylie Minogue, who became an important instigator in promoting breast cancer awareness after she was diagnosed with the disease in 2005.
And the list goes on and on….
Life experience is a valuable asset
So whether it’s somebody who has become a leading pioneer in their field. Whether they have been working for decades behind the scenes, in their spare time, or on the public stage, using their celebrity status to raise awareness among their fans on key issues in society. It’s the experience that they have gained along the way, through their own merit, that truly counts, especially when it comes to determining the criteria for deserving an honorary academic award in the first place.
But what about you and me? Surely we have developed some real skills over the course of our lives that might warrant some official recognition. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
For example, you could be an experienced gardener, mechanic or baker. It may have started out as just a hobby, but over time your expertise has evolved and expanded into something much more useful than you realise.
Perhaps you have already acquired the skills of a make-up artist, nail technician, hairdresser or masseuse. All those times practising on your friends may have actually paid off.
Maybe you are a natural computer whizz. You’ve spent long hours self-learning computer codes, or building your own website or blog. Now you are that go-to person whenever someone you know has a problem that they can’t fix.
If you have been running a family business for a while, it is also possible that you already have a good working knowledge of what a managerial role entails, which could easily be applied to other organisations.
Did you know that since the 90s, Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) has been an established academic assessment procedure that analyses all of the real-life experience that you have gained, regardless of when, where and how, and converts what you have previously learned into a formal qualification?
Visit Get Qualified Australia, the leading national experts in RPL and Skills Recognition for a free skills review to see what qualifications you may be eligible for and get the recognition you deserve.