Inaugural

I arrived early in the morning in Amsterdam, got my rental car and drove to a hotel in Leiden where I claimed my nearly free night from booking our hotels in Southeast Asia through Hotels.com. Today was the Inaugural Address of my little brother as Full professor in Law at this oldest of all universities in Holland. All my siblings, their spouses and several of their kids had converged onto Leiden, not only to witness this amazing achievement but also to celebrate the 100th anniversary of our father’s birthday on the 23rd of June in 1916.

I found familiar faces sitting on a terrace across from the old Leiden University building, waiting for the ceremonies to start. It was a beautiful sunny day with Leiden at its best.

We filed into a special room in the old academy building from where we could see a closed on a TV screen the official welcome of my brother into the elite community of full professors. We all learned about what was on his CV, pages and pages, things I didn’t know about and we were all very proud. After that we proceeded to the old auditorium with its creaking floors, wooden benches and very high pulpit (much like a church) already filled with his current and past colleagues, professors, students and friends. It was all very formal and laden with tradition, with professors in full black robes filing in and sitting in the side pews. I should probably have known the title of the chief black robe but can’t remember. He is the one who holds an enormous silver staff which is put in a holder next to the pulpit and heads the line of professors in and out.

The nearly one hour speech was mostly about dilemmas and challenges in private and corporate law that many of us know little about. The room perked up when he gave some examples of how we as humans, even if we have studied Law, are full of biases that get in the way of objective conclusions when judgments are made. He referred to the Twelve Angry Men film as illustration and made public his own internal reasoning about seeing someone yawn, check a phone or close his eyes in the audience. I felt a surge of energy and recognition around me. We had talked about him weaving this into his speech while I was in Cape Town and I was happy to see how well he’d done this and the effect it had.

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