Thank you, Bill… Dr. Lahey… Mr. President … soon to be honorary graduands, honoured head table guests, faculty and staff.
I am delighted to be here tonight as Honorary President of the Class of 2023.
First of all, my congratulations to all the members of the real, and most honorable — you actually earned your right to be here, after all — members of the graduating class of 2023.
And congratulations too, to all your family and friends, who helped you get to this moment and are here tonight to celebrate your success with you.
This is an occasion to celebrate. Whether this your first degree or — like some of tomorrow’s MFA graduates — your third or fourth, graduations are important markers in any life journey… Enjoy this one for all its worth.
I am sure some — probably many of you — in the graduating class tonight are asking yourselves, “Who’s he? And how did he become my class president?”
Because the MFA is a limited residency program, and because our main residencies happen when most other King’s classes don’t, you probably haven’t seen me in your classrooms, or in the hallways, or the Wardroom or, well, anywhere on campus.
So how did I get chosen?
I suspect — I don’t know, and I don’t intend to ask too many questions — that I owe this honour to the 34 members of MFA Class of 2023 who understood the power of voting as a block.
There were 169 members of this year’s King’s graduating classes eligible to vote for class president. But if you didn’t vote, or if you didn’t organize around a candidate of your choosing… well, you ended up with me.
I am, of course, honoured to call myself your president.
I’m also pleased to offer my own modest example as an important civics life lesson. Every vote counts. Make sure that in the future, when the outcome really matters, you make your own vote count.
That’s it for life lessons.
As Bill noted, I have been around King’s for… well, forever.
When I started teaching here fulltime in 1982, the J-School newsroom was filled with noisy manual typewriters and the air was thick with cigarette smoke. The entire registrar’s office consisted of one person working half-time. There were no upper-level undergrad programs, no master’s degrees in journalism, no MFAs.
A lot has changed since then, almost all of it for the better.
The one thing that I don’t believe has changed is the sense of community — or I should say communities — that thrive in small universities like King’s.
I see it every day in our MFA program. Students and alumni have their own private Facebook group. It was started by one of the students from the first graduating class in 2015 — a group of just 19 students. Now it has 239 members spanning the decade of our existence.
Members share everything from the latest dispatches from the larger writing world to their own good news about their latest book deals. I’m often amazed scanning the responses to those posts — “Congratulations!” … “Just pre-ordered your book!” … “Can’t wait to meet you at the launch!” — not so much by the sentiments expressed as by the fact the people expressing them were never actually in a class with the person posting. They may have graduated 5 years before or five years after, but they still feel a kinship, a sense of belonging, and a desire to support other MFAs simply because of their shared experiences as fellow members of the larger King’s MFA community.
That is special.
It’s not just true in the MFA, of course.
Students who’ve lived together in Radical Bay, or engaged in earnest debates in FYP tutorial groups, or pulled all-nighters during Journalism workshops … all become members of their own communities, communities that are part of the larger King’s community
Those communities, developed here, often don’t end with graduation.
There’s another very active alumni Facebook group I follow called “King’s Reunion: 1980s.” Its members include a decade’s worth of undergrad arts and journalism students.
Over the years, they’ve come together for various in-person reunions. But they also post news of their latest life events — jobs, marriages, kids, occasionally even divorces — and reminisce over shared photos from their times together at King’s.
Much of it is celebratory, but not always.
As you no doubt know, this has been a difficult time of reckoning for King’s, and some of what had to be reckoned with happened here during the 1980s.
When the stories broke in the news, one member of the Facebook group disclosed he had been one of the victims. Other members immediately reached out with support, and solidarity, and love.
That’s what community means. In good times and not-so-good.
My hope for all of you is that the communities you’ve created in your time here will endure and become vital places where you can continue to celebrate and commiserate and be there for each other.
Let me close by circling back to that “fun” fact Bill mentioned in introducing me — and offer you, if I may be permitted, one final life lesson.
Around this time of year 30 years ago, a group of about-to-be King’s grads — a mix of journalism and arts students — came to see me in my office. They had an idea for a summer make-work project, they said. They wanted to start their own alternative weekly newspaper in Halifax. What did I think of that idea?
I thought they were crazy. And I said so. I knew enough about the publishing world from personal experience to know how difficult it can be, even then.
I told them to forget about it.
Somehow, they heard me say, “Go for it!”
And they did. The next thing I knew, they’d published their first edition. Thirty years later, The Coast is still publishing, still an important part of the local media landscape.
Over the years, they have very kindly credited me with encouraging them to start the paper. I credit them with hearing what they wanted to hear.
And so, my final life lesson for you tonight is not to listen to people like me who will tell you to forget your dreams.
Hear what you want to hear, what you need to hear.
Follow your dreams. And good luck.