A Chamberlaine’s Farewell

16 June 2014
Melissa Highton at our Foundation Dinner, March 2014

Melissa Highton (centre) at our Foundation Dinner in March 2014

At Kellogg we have been fortunate to have Melissa Highton as one of our Chamberlain’s, acting as Master (or Mistress) of Ceremonies and delivering much enjoyed after dinner speeches. On Saturday 14th June, Melissa gave her final after dinner speech which was enjoyed by all those present and which we share here as a farewell from our Chamberlaine.   

President, Fellows, guests, friends, members of college, it has been my pleasure to spend many lovely evenings as Chamberlaine at dinner with you over the last few years.

Those of you who have heard my speeches will know from my accent that I am Scottish. Last year in November, I spoke at one of Kellogg’s high profile events the migration studies dinner hosted by Robin Cohen and Martin Ruhs. The theme I chose for that evening was one of migration, immigrant groups, diaspora and the right of return. I spoke about my hopes for the upcoming Scottish independence referendum. After the dinner I thought I had better do some research to find out if I could actually vote in the referendum vote. What I learned is that in order to vote in September one has to be actually resident in Scotland;  this presented me with a difficult challenge.

As you may have guessed, I feel a calling to go home, back to Scotland and so this will be my last Chamberlaine’s speech, for a while.

My time at Kellogg has been very happy. I have enjoyed it immensely. Before I go, I would like to share with you six top tips I found on the internet regarding the giving of after -dinner speeches:

1.     Know your audience

This is easy; we are all members of Kellogg, the best college in Oxford. It has been my honour to host Thanksgivings and Christmases, Valentine’s Days, International Women’s days and Burns Night Ceilidhs.

We have celebrated birthdays, retirements, rugby wins, rowing wins, croquet wins, the equal marriage act, building openings, door openings, book launches, formals and balls. I have welcomed so many interesting visitors and enjoyed meeting your families.

At Kellogg I have found new friends, new mentors, new teachers, new dance partners, a lover and travelling companion, and an audience for my best jokes and worst puns. You have been very kind. Many of you have suggested ideas for speeches and I have enjoyed researching them all.

One of the unique things about the Oxford collegiate experience is that eating together for dinner is at the heart of college. Some colleges have exclusive dining societies; at Kellogg we have an inclusive one.

2.     Stay sober

This is not so easy at Kellogg. As you know, the fizz before dinner at is most convivial.  It is also true that as Chamberlaine I get invited to rather a large number of wine tastings. So many in fact that I have had to enlist a number of Chamberlaine’s wine advisers to take the strain. With the year of 25th anniversary silver celebrations ahead I am sure you will enjoy much champagne.

3.     Speak before 11pm

This is easy at Kellogg, we always finish dinner before 9.30pm. The staff run a very tight ship and are a great help to me as a Chamberlaine. This is a wonderful time to be involved with Kellogg, the move to this new site, with this elegant dining room and modern kitchens and the steady growth of the site. You will always hear people say that Kellogg is a work in progress. It is, and it takes work. There are people here working really hard to move it forwards and to maintain quality as the college gets bigger and bigger. At Kellogg everything we do is breaking new ground.

4. Tell stories based on your own experience

I have been privileged to take several roles within College. As Dean of Degrees as well as going with you to your graduations and matriculations my work has taken me into the back rooms  and underground corridors of the Sheldonian and Divinity Schools and to late night meetings in the most heavily vaulted and candle-lit rooms to discuss in great detail the formulations of Latin presentation, the  gender permutations of subfusc and the dangers of stiletto heels.

I have also been Web Fellow and the Kellogg tweet. During the year that I was Web Fellow and Andrew Martin was IT Fellow, we launched Kellogg on Wikipedia, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Secondlife.  We moved 400 pages of content from the old website into Drupal, tagged it, marked it up and got the Kellogg event feed flowing into OxTalks,  MobileOxford and even on to the screen at reception which, until that time, everyone had just assumed was a big black mirror.

5.      Include a call to action or suggest advice

Here’s my advice: Don’t neglect your table manners. One day at Oxford you can be sure you will find yourself at dinner sitting next to someone whose work you admire, who you have always hoped to meet but never thought you would. You will find yourself nervous and tongue-tied. And you will discover that that is the dinner at which you are expected to eat a banana with a knife and fork.

As you will know from the very kind speech David Griffiths made about me at the last dinner my name, Melissa, means honeybee. Bees are very interesting, worth studying and worth saving. They do magical waggle dances to show the way to the best flowers and new pastures. Some of you may choose to follow my path, I hope many of you will visit me in Edinburgh in the future.

Which leads me to my last top tip for after dinner speeches:

6.     Don’t outstay your welcome

After 2 years as Chamberlaine it is time for me to pass the Strudwick bell to someone else.  I will return to Kellogg, I am sure.  The Fellows have kindly elected me to a visiting Fellowship  and I am always available for comedy stand-up, after dinner speeches, weddings,  bat mitzvahs, graduations, retirements and funerals if need arises.

In the meantime, for the last time, please join me in the bar for dessert wine, coffee and port.

Thank you, All.
Melissa Highton, June 2014.