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Delivered May 25, 2017.
Board Chair, Dr. Dale Godsoe; fellow Board members; President and Vice-Chancellor Florizone; graduates; family and friends of our graduates; faculty and staff colleagues of King’s and Dalhousie; alumni; friends of King’s College. Welcome to our Encaenia.
It is an honour to have this opportunity to address you as the President of our College, at this, my first Encaenia. Graduates, you are my first King’s graduating class. If you promise not to tell the others, I will admit that this means you will, of course, always be my favourite.
It is a particular pleasure to address you on this wonderful day – your day. Until a few moments before we started, I was planning to compliment you on how good you all looked by saying something like “you clean up nice”. But then, as you were all lining up for the procession, Dr. Sue Dodds walked by and said, “They are so beautiful”. That says it so much better – you are indeed so beautiful and it is a pleasure and an honour to stand here looking out at you all gathered together with your family and friends to celebrate your Encaenia.
Thank you Elder Gerry Musqua Leblanc and Board Chair Dale Godsoe for opening this Encaenia by drawing our attention to higher things and reminding us of the importance of our spiritual selves to our understanding of the world and our relationships with each other.
Thank you Elder Gerry for both reminding us that we gather on unceded Mi’gmaq territory and for welcoming us to share in its bounty. I join you in recognizing and acknowledging we stand on unceded Mi’gmaq territory. When we gather together as a College community for our most important events, it is right and proper that we remind ourselves that we share in the bounty of this land, of this territory, by way of the treaties the Mi’gmaq negotiated with the British Crown, before there was a King’s College.
Those treaties, as well as the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, call us as a University and as a community to the work of reconciliation with indigenous Canadians. Call to action 86 specifically charged universities with schools of journalism to educate journalism students in “the history of aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of Residential schools, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal-Crown relations”.
This is an obligation we must meet. It is also a tremendous opportunity and a wonderful validation of the fundamental importance of journalism, journalism schools and their graduates to reconciliation and by extension, to all of the most important issues facing our country and world. We must embrace the opportunity and live up to the confidence placed in us by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Our response must flow through our whole educational mission and life as a college community built on recognition of our responsibility to each other and to others. That is why our programme for high school students, Humanities for Young People, led by Professors Clift and Penny, will in July welcome 40 teenagers from across Canada to explore the humanities and journalism through the theme of reconciliation. And by the way, thank you again Elder Gerry for the contribution you and your elder colleagues will be making to that Programme.
We make much at King’s of our creation by Royal Charter issued by King George III in 1802, 13 years after the College’s establishment by statute. Every February, we even take a day off in honour of George III. I think we can safely say that, in the modern world, we are leaders in honouring George III.
We should therefore note that George III also issued the much more famous Royal Proclamation of 1763, which recognized the sovereignty of the indigenous peoples and their ownership of their lands over the breadth of North America. This proclamation, and the limits it placed on the westward expansion of the thirteen colonies, was one of the grievances that led to the American War of Independence, which eventually led to the arrival in Nova Scotia of the Loyalists who founded this college. Our histories have divided us but they are also interconnected – exploring them can pull us together.
Thank you to our Dalhousie colleagues, President Richard Florizone, my Vice-Chancellor tag-team partner, and Deans Frank Harvey of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and Marty Leonard of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, both of whom will be presenting our graduates for their degrees. Welcome to our many other Dalhousie colleagues present, including many Dalhousie faculty here to celebrate graduation with their many King’s students.
The deep collaboration between King’s and Dalhousie enriches the education of the students of each university. In a very real sense, this is a King’s Encaenia and a Dalhousie convocation. Other than our journalism students, the degrees conferred will be Dalhousie degrees, jointly conferred, reflecting the fact that our arts, science and music students – as well as our graduate students – are simultaneously King’s and Dalhousie students.
Our students, including our journalism students, navigate the King’s/Dalhousie relationship to create individualized educational journeys of great richness, diversity and originality. This will be apparent as they are awarded their degrees: our students earn degrees across a range and combination of disciplines and with majors and minors that would simply be impossible at a university of our scale but for the deeply symbiotic association we share with Dalhousie.
Our students – and both of our institutions – benefit greatly by having the opportunity to live, study and grow in two academic worlds that are generally mutually exclusive: the small and focused liberal arts college and the larger research university that encompasses undergraduate, graduate and professional education across many disciplines.
President Florizone, it is a personal pleasure to have you with us for this important event in the life of King’s, especially considering you have 17 convocation of your own to attend – and we make you speak Latin at this one! But Richard, on that count, let me reassure you – after twelve months here, I’ve come to understand that as long as what you are saying sounds like actual words, they will be ok with your pronunciation.
A graduation is a time for looking back and looking ahead.
To our students, about to become our newest alumni, I offer our hearty congratulations.
The earning of a degree is an impressive achievement. It recognizes your hard work and the knowledge, skills and wisdom you have developed and acquired. It recognizes your willingness to submit to the suffering that learning demands. It bears witness to the barriers and challenges, like financial insecurity, anxiety, loneliness, uncertainty and depression, you have overcome.
The earning of your degree expresses to the world the confidence we have in the mark that you will leave on it and on all those you will share your lives with.
But your achievement goes beyond the fact that you have earned a degree. It encompasses all you have tried, your wins and losses, and all you have joined in, started, worked towards and contributed to – within King’s, at Dalhousie and in Halifax and beyond – while doing the academic work required to complete your degrees.
In your studies, your objectives went beyond earning a degree or accolades for yourself. You aspired to become educated. You have looked out for and supported each other and contributed to each other’s education, development, well-being and happiness.
We are grateful for all you have contributed to King’s and its collegial life and identity. You have done this by calling on us to be the community we claim to be, both through the King’s Student Union and independently of it. You have done this by seizing the opportunity King’s gives students to be not only students but journalists, philosophers, athletes, actors, writers, filmmakers, singers, activists, administrators, theologians, humanitarians, creators, leaders, comedians and citizens.
You have not limited yourself to preparing for life. You have been living it in all its rich, complex and contradictory dimensions. You are therefore prepared for the life to come.
It is now time to look to that future.
At King’s we say, “the world needs citizens who can steer ongoing debates and challenges away from easy answers toward deeper truths”. Our Journalism School says, “the world needs storytellers dedicated to pursuing and sharing truths in trustworthy and meaningful ways”. We tell prospective students, come here and you can be one of those citizens, one of those storytellers.
After nearly twelve months of meeting, listening to and being in community with King’s students and alumni – an experience for which I am deeply grateful – I have learned at least two things.
First, King’s is producing the kinds of citizens and storytellers the world needs. They are steering debates toward deeper truths and telling truthful stories in their families, their communities and their careers. Those careers are in music, film, theater, art, social enterprise, activism, publishing, teaching and the church. They are also in banking, global high-tech, law, medicine, business, scientific research and public administration. Our graduates are contributing in virtually all fields as leaders, communicators, scholars, public servants, thinkers, creators, innovators and, perhaps above all, as writers. In fact, as far as I can tell, just about all of them are writing books, no matter how they are otherwise spending their time. They have this in common with today’s graduates in our Masters of Fine Art in creative non-fiction.
The second thing I have learned is this: the reason King’s grads are the citizens and storytellers the world needs is because they live with an ingrained understanding that we are indeed each other’s keepers – that we are all deeply responsible for each other – and that we must live accordingly, including by caring for the earth that connects us all. They live, in other words, according to the values, commitments and principles beautifully exemplified by the two accomplished women on whom we will shortly bestow honorary degrees.
Whether King’s students bring this ethos to King’s or acquire it here, its prevalence at King’s is an essential element of what makes the experience of a King’s education transformative and different. King’s graduates take it with them into the world, along with what they know and know how to do and their academic accomplishments.
Graduates of 2017, you no doubt have other and more immediate things on your minds than being one of the things the world needs, be it citizen, storyteller or something else – like, for example, last night in the Wardroom.
You may also reasonably think you are not quite ready to take on responsibilities of global dimensions.
But all of us here want you to know this: you have it in you, like generations of King’s graduates that have gone before you, to make differences of importance to our world. We will be watching that potential unfold, with pleasure and delight, just as we have with joy watched your potential beautifully unfold during the course of your life at King’s.
The world, like King’s before it, will be a better world because of it.