VUB honorary doctorates for science communicator Ann Druyan, artist William Kentridge, politician Pierre Kompany, and immunotherapy experts Antoni Ribas and Thierry Boon

VUB honorary doctorates for science communicator Ann Druyan, artist William Kentridge, politician Pierre Kompany, and immunotherapy experts Antoni Ribas and Thierry Boon

Awards on the theme of connection

Wednesday, November 17, 2021 - After a delay of a year-and-a-half due to the corona crisis, this week the Vrije Universiteit Brussel presented the five honorary doctorates it awarded in 2020. The titles go to science communicator Ann Druyan, artist William Kentridge, politician Pierre Kompany, and Antoni Ribas and Thierry Boon, world authorities in the field of immunotherapy, a groundbreaking approach to cancer. These awards are dedicated to connection. They were awarded jointly with the Erasmushogeschool Brussel, Ghent University, University of the Western Cape in South Africa, Brussels Parliament, UZ Brussel and Université libre de Bruxelles.

Below you will find the laureates’ diplomas, the opening speech of rector Caroline Pauwels and photos of the event.


VUB emphasises its connection with institutions in Brussels, Flanders and the world. That’s why we also award each honorary doctorate alongside a partner institution.

Rector Caroline Pauwels: “The new honorary doctorates come from the most diverse sectors, but they have one thing in common: they connect. That is what the world needs today, people who reach out to others. Who don’t look for differences, but for similarities. People who are willing to listen to each other.”

For their exceptional friendship, which demonstrates that forgiveness and solidarity are possible even after disastrous events, Koenraad Tinel and Simon Gronowski were honoured at this ceremony. They already received an honorary doctorate in March last year: a joint title from VUB and ULB, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of VUB and the festive year 2019-2020. They were presented with this honorary doctorate at the Academic Opening in September 2020.

The ceremony was extra special as it took place in the Royal Muntschouwburg and the world-renowned composer Dirk Brossé acted as guest conductor of the VUB orchestra conducted by Jurgen Wayenberg. The reception afterwards was cancelled due to Covid.

Honorary Doctorates

Ann Druyan

With Erasmushogeschool Brussel

Ann Druyan is an American writer and producer of popular programmes on cosmology and science. She was married to cosmologist and science communicator Carl Sagan, who died in 1996. Druyan was creative director of the Nasa Voyager Interstellar Message Project when Sagan had the now famous photo of the Pale Blue Dot taken: a picture of the Earth from 6 billion kilometres away. At that distance, the Earth is not much more than a dot the size of a pixel. Sagan realised the iconic value of such a picture: it symbolises the enormous size of space, puts into perspective the impact humanity has on the universe, and emphasises that we don't have a planet B. With this in mind, Druyan remains committed to science popularisation. She came up with Cosmos, a docuseries about the universe, the first series of which was broadcast worldwide on National Geographic. The new series, Cosmos: Possible Worlds, will be launched in dozens of countries on 9 March. Her belief is that as more people become interested in science, we will achieve a better, more critical society.

William Kentridge

With Ghent University and the University of the Western Cape, South Africa

William Kentridge is a filmmaker, artist and sculptor. Though he was born in Johannesburg in 1955 to a white family, he was exposed from the beginning to the consequences of apartheid in his country. His father was a lawyer for Nelson Mandela, and Kentridge regularly refers in his work to this turbulent period in the history of his country. He is well known in Belgium. In 2005, he created a remarkable production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute for De Munt, and his piece Ubu and the Truth Commission was performed at Bozar. He also has a deep connection with KunstenFESTIVALdesArts.

Pierre Kompany

With the Brussels Parliament

Everyone immediately associates him with his son Vincent, but Pierre Kompany is himself a special figure. Marked out by Mobutu’s regime in Congo, he arrived in Belgium in 1975 as an undocumented migrant. More than 40 years later he became the first black mayor of Belgium, in the Brussels municipality of Ganshoren. He is an indication that Belgium is gradually putting its colonial past behind it. He has never denied his origins, but speaks with great respect of the country he has made his home.

Antoni Ribas and Thierry Boon

With UZ Brussel

Antoni Ribas is a world authority in the field of clinical research into immunotherapy, specifically for the treatment of malignant melanoma. He is one of the most referenced scientists in his field. Thierry Boon, a specialist in immunology, is emeritus professor at the Université Catholique de Louvain and former director of the Brussels branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the Institut international de Pathologie cellulaire et molecular (Institut de Duve). He is an internationally recognised authority in the field of cancer research and has won numerous prestigious prizes, including the Francqui Prize (1990) and the Louis-Jeantet Prize (1994).

Koenraad Tinel and Simon Gronowski

With the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB)

Koenraad Tinel is a Belgian sculptor and artist. Simon Gronowski holds a doctorate in law, is a lawyer at the Brussels bar and a jazz pianist. The two men are close friends, which is perhaps surprising given their backgrounds. During World War Two, Gronowski escaped from the train that was taking him and his family to the extermination camp at Auschwitz when he was just 11. Tinel, meanwhile, grew up in a Flemish family who supported the Nazis. Their exceptional friendship is a powerful symbol of hope, happiness and peace.

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Sicco Wittermans
Sicco Wittermans Woordvoerder en persrelaties Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Sicco Wittermans
Sicco Wittermans Woordvoerder en persrelaties Vrije Universiteit Brussel
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