Four generations of female graduates

Graduating with a bachelor of science at the University of Otago in  Dunedin on Saturday is Kes...
Graduating with a bachelor of science at the University of Otago in Dunedin on Saturday is Kes Harris-Handscomb (21), flanked by her mother, Lison Harris, and grandmother, Emerita Prof Jocelyn Harris, both university alumni. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Another chapter has been added to a family’s extraordinary tradition of academic achievement at the University of Otago.

Kes Harris-Handscomb (21) graduated in Dunedin with a bachelor of science on Saturday, extending a family line of Otago graduations that began with her late great-grandmother Margot Ross.

It continued with her grandmother, Emerita Prof Jocelyn Harris, and her mother, Lison Harris.

Prof Harris said she would be surprised if the graduation of four generations of women from the same family had happened before at Otago, New Zealand’s first university.

She was delighted by her granddaughter’s achievement, especially given Covid-19 had created some difficulties.

Ms Harris-Handscomb, who studied chemistry and science communication, since moved to Wellington, where she works at an intellectual property office.

She said she enjoyed her year living at Hayward College before experiencing flatting, which was ‘‘not as warm’’.

Her lecturers in the chemistry department were fantastic, she said.

Lison Harris graduates in law in 1998, flanked by her grandmother, Margot Ross, and Prof Harris....
Lison Harris graduates in law in 1998, flanked by her grandmother, Margot Ross, and Prof Harris. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
When Ms Ross graduated in the 1930s, she made her own hood for her gown, Prof Harris said.

‘‘My mother graduated in history [master of arts, 1934] and became the first woman to teach in the history department at Otago.’’

The hood made by Ms Ross would be worn again in 1993, when granddaughter Lison graduated with first-class honours in French, before moving into law. In between, Prof Harris graduated with a master of arts in 1961. She went on to get a PhD in London in 1969, taught English at the University of Otago from 1971, becoming professor emerita in 2005.

Her most recent book about novelist Jane Austen, Satire, Celebrity, and Politics in Jane Austen, was released in 2017.

Reflecting on the family legacy, Lison said her mother and grandmother had helped make it possible for women to thrive at university.

And she was, naturally, proud of her daughter.

Otago graduation ceremonies got under way on May 7 after a run of cancellations last year because of Covid-19 and a bomb threat.

Among the achievements due to be acknowledged next Saturday are student qualifications in law and commerce.

grant.miller@odt.co.nz

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