Degree Conferred in Germany
In a ceremony that illustrates Dickinson’s international perspective, President William G. Durden '71 traveled to Bremen, Germany, to present renowned author Günter Kunert with an honorary degree. Kunert—one of the most versatile and prominent German contemporary writers—received the honor on July 5 at the college’s study-abroad partner institution, the University of Bremen.
The awarding of honorary degrees abroad by a U.S. college or university is rare. Dickinson's records indicate that this is the first time in the college’s 227-year history that the president conferred an honorary degree while on foreign soil. This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the partnership between Dickinson and the University of Bremen.
The awarding of the degree to Kunert in Germany “underscores Dickinson's international reach and prestige,” said Stuart Rosen '62, a Dickinson trustee and chair of the college's honorary degree committee.
“Günter Kunert’s life and work are, in their content and reception, examples of the importance of taking a broader perspective on the study and production of art,” said Sarah McGaughey, assistant professor of German and chair of Dickinson’s German department, in her introduction at the ceremony. “The totalitarian and democratic political systems of Germany in the 20th century provide the backdrop and context for his body of work and his life.”
Kunert, who fought for democracy in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR)—East Germany—devoted part of his public readings the night before the ceremony to his writings about America, where he has visited. Kunert, whose readings were sponsored and broadcast by Radio Bremen, cited Carl Sandburg and Edgar Lee Masters as major influences in his professional life.
“America was woven back into his life with the awarding of this degree,” Durden said.
Born in Berlin in 1929, Kunert studied at the Academy of Applied Arts in Berlin from 1946 to '49. He has written in nearly every genre, including literary criticism, short fiction, television, theatre and poetry. It is as a poet that he is best known today, particularly for his parable-like writings and dark wit. He also is a painter and graphic artist.
Kunert’s work of the 1950s grew out of his experiences with war and fascism, and in his early writings, his poems often served almost as warnings about the dangers of repeating war and military dictatorship. In the 1960s this work changed to a sense of general disillusionment, influenced particularly by his disgust with East German socialism. From 1963 on, he began to receive criticism from the GDR, and in 1966 his poetry was attacked for displaying un-Marxist qualities, leading to his expulsion from the Communist party in 1977. In 1979, he left East Germany to live in the West.
Kunert has received numerous literary awards, including the Heinrich Mann Prize in 1962.
Participants in the honorary degree presentation ceremony included Durden; McGaughey; Wilfried Müller, rector of the University of Bremen; Abigail Breckinridge '11, an international-studies and German major who is studying in Bremen and who performed Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 at the event; Elke Durden, adjunct faculty in German at Dickinson; and Janine Ludwig, academic director for Dickinson at Bremen. Other Dickinson faculty and students in Bremen also attended.
Acclaimed German writer Michael Augustin, a senior producer at Radio Bremen, was instrumental in the honorary degree celebration. He organized and moderated a well-received public reading broadcast on Radio Bremen the evening before the degree ceremony.
Augustin has served as a writer in residence at Dickinson and was instrumental in making the college’s annual Semana Poética program an international event. He taught German at Dickinson for a semester, was named honorary fellow and has returned several times for public readings of his poems and short prose.
Chartered in 1783, Dickinson maintains more than 40 educational programs on six continents in 24 countries. At least 60 percent of each graduating class study off campus, and the college is among the top five baccalaureate institutions nationwide in terms of the number of students who study abroad for an entire academic year.
See video of the honorary degree ceremony.