Mr. Chancellor, Mr. President & vice-chancellor, members of the faculty, parents and, above all, graduates. It is a very special honour for me to be asked to speak to the graduating class this evening. Having had the considerable privilege of serving for over 10 years as chancellor of kings – each Encaenia I have stood in awe of the very considerable accomplishments of our graduates and given the many distractions and hurdles that one must get over when pursuing higher education – it is no small feat to obtain a degree, especially from one of Canada’s leading universities.
Make no mistake, it requires intelligence, dedication and perseverance on your part, but it also requires the support of your family and friends, whose sacrifice and encouragement should not go unrecognized.
The important characteristic of any address is that it be brief and that it be relevant. Brevity I can promise and hopefully relevance, but that will be for you to judge.
Certainly as you pursue your various career paths you will face challenging economic times and a fractious, divided world. On the other hand you have been provided with great opportunity.
The opportunity to pursue your careers, but also the opportunity to contribute beyond your careers or perhaps with your careers, to the betterment of the society in which we live.
The education you have, the people you know, and those who you will come to know, will all help provide that opportunity.
My particular background is in law and politics – two professions that are not at the top of everyone’s popularity list – at least not politics!
But contrary to many these days, I view politics as public service and as a high calling. (I looked on my 21 years in the senate as an honour and a privilege.)
And, for me, the foundation of public service is respect for the constitution and loyalty to one’s colleagues. And certainly when times get tough, due process and loyalty are doubly important.
With a few notable exceptions, neither concept has been much on display recently. So not surprisingly people increasingly wonder why our political leaders and what they do seem so disconnected from the concerns of Canadians and why do the issues debated in our legislatures seem so distant from the real challenges faced in our day-to-day lives? Where, one might ask, is the leadership? Where are the big ideas to move society forward?
As one enters the centre block of the parliament buildings in Ottawa, carved at the base of the peace tower is the sentence from the book of proverbs: “Where there is no vision, the people perish”.
Therefore, one could also ask, where is the vision?
There are such great opportunities for leadership and vision – dealing with our environment – climate change – and balancing that with the need to develop and transport our natural resources to global markets in the safest manner possible, to identify just a couple.
But these comments about the need for respect, loyalty, leadership, big ideas and vision apply to more than just politics. You don’t have to be a politician to address the issues of our day.
The challenge I put to you is to build on the opportunity you have been given and be that leader, develop the big ideas and create the vision that will serve you and this country as you discover your pathway to the future.
Your professors, this university, have provided you with the best possible tools – those of a first class liberal education which, in my view – and I am certainly not alone – best prepares us for our lives as human beings and as citizens.
Dr. Donald Markwell, a noted Australian scholar in the fields of economics, education and public policy, pointed out in an address delivered at Trent University in 2010, and I quote:
“Contrary to some stereotypes, liberal education is not only or primarily about courses on great books, or only classics and history and other humanities. Modern liberal education at its fullest typically includes courses in the life and physical science, social sciences, history or other humanities, some study that relates to values and moral reasoning, some language, and so on. It will also typically include a strong emphasis on communication, most especially writing.
“Liberal education will often be accompanied by focus on extra-curricular engagement as part of a student’s all-round education.”
“. . . Liberal education,” he said, “does not mean that one does not get a specialised or vocational education at some point. Clearly very many people need that. But the argument for liberal education is that it should precede or at least accompany more specialised or vocational education, so that our graduates have breadth as well as whatever depth they get.”
And he continued:
“Various events of the last decade have highlighted the need for a broader education if one is to be able to engage fully in the world as it is becoming. For example:
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and subsequent events have highlighted the importance of understanding world religions and cultural diversity if current international conflicts are to be understood.
Some of the corporate collapses of the last decade, such as Enron, have highlighted the importance of education in ethics or values.
The global financial crisis has highlighted the need for a greater understanding of economic history, and of a broader understanding of economic theory and policy.”
So with the skills you have developed here at King’s you have the opportunity – the opportunity – to be a visionary – to lead – to think – to be creative in whatever path you chose to follow.
It was [the actor-producer-director] Alan Alda who said “have the nerve to go into unexplored territory. Be brave enough to live life creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition”.
But the real challenge for you is to get down out of the bleachers and onto the field and just do it!! Get out there into the world and become engaged.
And I really mean that, you can’t fully utilize the opportunity you have, just sitting in front of your laptop, iPad or on your cellphone.
I believe that we all must take time – no – make time – to meet one another and speak face to face.
I urge you, whenever possible to engage with each other in the traditional way – in person.
Your life should be a journey towards a destination – a destination where success is measured by what you have contributed positively to society – contributing in the realm of public service – service in support of your community, the arts, the sciences, and your country.
And lest anybody tell you that it can’t be done, keep in mind the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “Surely in the light of history it is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try. For one thing we know beyond all doubt: nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, it can’t be done.”
I wish you well and hope you use the opportunity you have been given, accept the challenge, and use your talents, which are considerable, in the service of your chosen field, but more importantly in the service of others.
And finally please do keep a soft spot in your heart for Kings!