Delivered May 25, 2023
Chancellor Little, President Lahey, Kathryn, fellow graduands, faculty colleagues, staff and honoured guests. It’s a great honour to be here today.
Forty years ago…I sat where you are, about to graduate from King’s – Dalhousie. I was the first in my family to go to university, let alone graduate with a BA Honours.
The baccalaureate service was a welcome start to the day. It was a time to reflect on higher matters – to give thanks for the last four years — and to think about what was next.
At some point during the service, my mind turned to more immediate things — lunch, Encaenia and the party after. Today is action-packed … so I promise this will be short.
In some ways, it’s a bit of a miracle that we’re here at all.
The pandemic and its restrictions pushed all of us to the limits — emotionally, physically and spiritually – but here we are today, gathered in community. I want to applaud everyone in this room – students, your support teams of family and friends, faculty, staff and the administration at King’s. You worked together and pulled through with aplomb. This is the King’s I know and love.
Since I graduated, the institution and academic programs have evolved from a residential college with the Foundation Year Program & the School of Journalism. Today, King’s is an interdisciplinary hub with Contemporary Studies, Early Modern Studies and the History of Science and Technology. King’s offers — with Dalhousie
graduate degrees — the Master of Journalism and the MFA in Creative Nonfiction — with a new Fiction stream starting this year.
While much has changed, King’s has kept true to the values that moved me to leave a CBC job in PEI and enroll as a 23-year-old mature student a few credits shy of an Ontario Grade 13 high school diploma. No, I didn’t take journalism.
What I saw then, I see now — a collegial community of mind, spirit and sport where teaching and learning are ongoing conversations that happen in the classroom, on the basketball court, in the dining hall, in the community through experiential learning, and of course over a beer in the Wardroom.
King’s changed my life in ways I could not have imagined.
My tutors in Foundation Year – Dr. Roper and Dr. Curran, who are here today – are among those who taught me to read carefully and deeply, to reason, to discuss, to write, and not to split my infinitives.
None of this came easy to me, but the load was shared among my found family of friends.
FYP introduced me to Dante’s celestial rose and Dostoyevsky. My studies at King’s and Dalhousie enlarged my mind, perspective and world.
And I am forever grateful.
Forty years ago, I remember sitting here in the chapel feeling so full of knowledge and wondering what I would do with it. Where it would take me. Further studies, travel, a family, new job possibilities? It turns out that it was all that and so much more.
For me, that knowledge came alive through working with other people. My 40-year journey took me to the CBC and led me back to King’s as a journalism professor and university administrator.
My King’s education had taught me to take risks, and work opened doors. While at King’s, I was drawn into international training and teaching in Southeast Asia. For almost 20 years, my breaks were spent overseas working alongside local journalists on projects to empower women in the media and to build independent media in post-conflict and developing countries.
It started as part of an international effort to build a democracy in Cambodia, a country destroyed by 30 years of revolution and war. With important elections on the horizon, the role of our small Canadian team was to assist local journalists to produce independent media coverage. I was sent to the Women’s Media Centre, an NGO in Phnom Penh.
I remember arriving in 2001 with an outline for a radio skills course in hand. Within minutes, I threw it out and asked the women — what do you need? In translation, they talked about the difficulties of being female journalists in a male-dominated culture, how authorities dismissed their requests for interviews because they were women and how they faced verbal and physical harassment in the field.
Because of the upheaval in the country, they had little access to education. Over the next three years, they honed their research, writing and interviewing skills.
On election day in July 2003, I shadowed two young reporters from the Women’s Media Centre. They were interviewing voters at a polling station when a loud bang echoed. A bomb. I swallowed my fear and followed as they scurried up the hill in the sweltering heat. With phones to their ears, they headed to the opposition party headquarters, where a pipe bomb had exploded at the front gate. I watched as these women took note of the minor damage from the explosion, then talked their way past armed police and into the compound. Within minutes they were interviewing the opposition leader, Prince Norodom Ranariddh. I observed professionals — confident and intent on broadcasting factual information to the
country’s largely illiterate population.
My association with Southeast Asia continued until Covid in 2020 through the Asian Center for Journalism at Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. As a visiting professor, I had the honour to teach and learn from hundreds of working journalists from more than 15 countries. Journalists shared their cultural and
religious heritages — on campus and through online distance education. Many worked within the confines of communist and authoritarian regimes. Others were on the front lines of political and religious conflict. They faced poverty, repression and censorship. Over 20 years, the MA journalism program built a pan-Asian
network of media leaders and teachers who hold factual journalism and independent press as necessary public goods. These days the challenges to that ideal seem daunting as governments roll back democratic freedoms and try to quash free speech and independent media. There are those — such as Nobel prize-winner
Maria Ressa of Rappler in the Philippines who are resisting. She is an inspiration and has rallied the international community with the hashtag #holdtheline.
Going out into the world taught me what it means to serve. It is about putting others first. It’s also about learning how to receive. Service, I discovered, is reciprocal. Service is about relationships – listening, learning, being present, supporting, working alongside and following.
No matter where you land, you can be confident that you will find your own way to give to community.
The seeds of service were planted and watered in your family and set root here at King’s. They will grow and flower on your journey.
Your time at King’s has positioned you well to make a difference in the world. And you will never be alone. You have a network of forever friends and will soon be part of larger supportive King’s alumni.
I wish you all the best.