Photo: Tufigno Photography
The University of Malta conferred two Honoris Causa Degrees on Friday 17 November 2023, with the two recipients being Judge Philip Sciberras (posthumously) and renowned Maltese-American cartoonist, Joe Sacco.
Honorary degrees are conferred on individuals who have made substantial contributions to society, and earned national and/or international distinction in activities that contributed to the advancement of their careers. They are considered one of the highest distinctions in academia.
Judge Philip Sciberras was born in Malta in 1945. He graduated as a lawyer in 1973, and between 1979 and 1987 he was also a Member of Parliament. He was appointed to the judiciary in 2002 and dedicated his life to legal research. In 2016, he was appointed Officer of Order of Merit. Other than his legal career, Judge Sciberras was also prolific in other fields. He was one of the founders of the Moviment Qawmien Litterarju of the 1960’s, he published a number of legal and non-legal works, and had embarked on a monumental, 10-volume reference work, The Alphabet of the Civil Code. Unfortunately, he passed away before the launch of the first volume of his latest series entitled L-Alfabett tal-Kodiċi ta’ Organizzazzjoni u Proċedura Ċivili. The Honorary Degree will be accepted by his relatives, on his behalf.
Joe Sacco was born in Malta in 1960. A year later his family immigrated to Melbourne, Australia, where he spent his childhood. In 1972, his family relocated to the United States. In 1978, Sacco majored in journalism at the University of Oregon, and in 1986 he started working for Fantagraphics, one of the most distinguished American publishers of independent comics and cartoons. Over the following years, his critically acclaimed strips and graphic novels focusing mostly on war-torn countries and geopolitical issues won him the name of father of comics journalism. In 2012, he earned the PEN Literary Award in Graphic Literature for Outstanding Body of Work.
Prior to the ceremony, the Academic Body together with Mr Sacco and relatives of Judge Sciberras, proceeded in procession from the Valletta Campus in St Paul Street to the Church of the University, in Merchants Street.
Orations were delivered by Prof. Kevin Aquilina from the Faculty of Laws for the late Judge Sciberras, and Dr Gilbert Calleja from the Faculty of Arts for Mr Sacco. Prof. Aquilina thanked the University for recognising Judge Sciberras’ contributions towards the administration and leadership of the country. He also emphasised Sciberras’ long and fruitful career spanning across a number of disciplines and is pleased to see the University conferring such a prestigious degree despite his passing. On the other hand, Dr Calleja reminded those present of the genius behind Joe Sacco’s work. His contributions often manifested themselves in the form of funny cartoons that depict the world through his point of view by employing a method that separates Sacco from his counterparts. Calleja concluded by thanking Joe for being the “funny-looking guy” he is, reiterating the impetus of his publications that often unearthed the strengths in being vulnerable, inept, and lost.
The ceremony, which took place at the Church of the University in Valletta, was attended by the President of Malta, His Excellency Dr George Vella.
It was live-streamed through the University of Malta’s social media channels. You may relive the highlights online.