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Dr. John Hamm’s address at the President’s Dinner

Dr. John Hamm's address at the President's Dinner

Thank you for the opportunity to share with you reflections 50 years after graduation from King’s — although my departure from campus was delayed four years while attending medical school.

I remember less of my graduation day than I do of my first day on campus — arriving in my parents’ car with my school-years friend and to-be roommate, Don Thompson. The day is as clear as yesterday — we parked on the quad for the first time and I looked at the Chapel Bay door, the Bay to be my new home for the first three years on campus. We were almost immediately greeted with handshakes and “Welcome to King’s” from upper classmen Jack Hatfield and Mike Rudderham, two early greetings I have never forgotten. We moved into the top floor (a single room with two beds) and no fire escape then. My father went down to the hardware store on Spring Garden Road, bought 100 feet of rope, which he tied to the radiator. This was to be our way out in case of a fire. These were simpler times.

King’s was special to all my colleagues then, as I am sure it is to you now. My King’s was smaller in numbers, with about one quarter of today’s enrolment on a similar footprint — the university owned a house across the street as it does today. Freshmen outnumbered freshettes, four to one.

Students were less traveled in those days and King’s provided new frontiers for me with Newfies, Cape Bretoners, Bermudians, upper Canadians and a smattering from far off places like China. We were fused together by healthy competitions in debating, running, hockey, softball, basketball, drama, all with high levels of participation. Most of those early friendships have lasted the 50 years, which is hallmark of this place.

Day students were assigned to the Bays for competition, points were kept and the winning Bay received in the spring, with much fanfare, a large cake. Three formal dances were held each year including graduation. Water fights and the 20-minute floor hockey game after lunch daily in the roost were stress relievers and yes we studied together sharing notes and wisdom and hung out in the Bays.

All in all, it was a good place we learned to love.

As the first day here is pivotal, so to is your last day here. King’s has made a huge mark on all of you — more so than you realize. By attending King’s (called by some the Harvard of the north), you have special status. Take advantage of it. Society has provided you with an opportunity. Academically, you are now advantaged. It is up to you, individually, not to waste the advantage. As of graduation tomorrow, you have a head start.

A taxi driver in New York once said, “If you don’t have a college education, you sure have to use your brains.” Even with a college education, you have to use your brains. The past four years were a start, but a rapidly changing world will require you to adapt — to continue to learn, to be on your toes, to work hard.

King’s produces rounded graduates. I am reminded of the Ontario junior high principal who once said, “The doctor of philosophy who can not make a simple box is as poorly educated as the carpenter who cannot read.”

Tomorrow will be a day of congratulations—a time for your supporters and families to take pride in your accomplishments. It is a feel-good day as your efforts are rewarded, as are the efforts of your professors and all in the university who take pride in your academic success.

The day after tomorrow will be less about what you have learned than about what use you will put it to. Your responsibilities will be greater than simply studying to pass exams as you will be judged on broader performance as you put what you have into practice.

The world in which you will find yourself is uncertain and it requires your leadership and as leaders you will be subjected to greater scrutiny as the years go on. Your friends, families, and university expect great things of you and King’s has prepared you to take a big step. Admittedly for some, the move into the read world will be delayed by further study but that should in no way dilute the King’s influence.

We are fortunate in this country to live in a democracy (a democracy that started right here in Nova Scotia 250 years ago the first in Canada). We are fortunate that our country had democracy from day one without bloodshed or as Joseph Howe once said, without a single pane of glass being shattered.

I recently heard a successful young woman, an author and entrepreneur, speak to an audience of school children. She was brought up by a single mom in a low income situation attributing her success to her mother who said to her early on “in this country you can be whatever you want to be.” What a great endorsement for that mother — what a great endorsement for Canada.

In 1960, we had our Bill of Rights — in 1982, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There is also the unwritten charter, the charter of obligations, because as citizens of free society, we inherit freedoms but we also inherit responsibilities. We do have responsibilities to each other, which as King’s People we are expected to fulfill.

I realize that financially for many the road has been rocky but this investment in yourself has been worth it. Tomorrow, you receive something that cannot be taken away — that being the formal recognition of your college and remember that in this country, you can be whatever you want to be.

Years from now, you will take pride in seeing your contemporaries at King’s succeeding in their endeavors. The bonding at King’s is an unselfish one. You will find that your King’s friends will still seek you out in 30, 40 or even 50 years from now. That is a special part of the King’s mystique. They will be interested in what you are up to as you are in them.

On Saturday night, after receiving the Judge J. Elliott Hudson Distinguished Alumnus Award, Dave Wilson reflected on the relationships he had in immediate post war King’s and how these friendships lasted and were so helpful to him in his later business life.

There is something very special about a small college.

King’s continues to evolve and is bolstered by a strong alumni association, currently led by Steven Wilson, whose late uncle Peter was a contemporary and a good friend of mine here at King’s.

As King’s faces new challenges, it requires support from alumni. Each of you, as of tomorrow, will be just that. King’s does and will need your support as it searches for ways to maintain its relevance and viability in the future.

Currently, we are struggling with the space requirements of a college that has grown from 300 to 1,1150 in my day, and yet the campus has not grown, although the soccer, softball and field hockey field gave way to the new Alexandra Hall, the gym, and the library, and the backyard later to the NAB and Prince Hall.

King’s must look at what is needed to deliver first-class programs for all students, as well as providing space for King’s life.I only bring this up because, as alumni, you will be part of the consultation and part of the answer, part of the solution.

I earlier spoke about obligation, obligations we have to each other, responsibilities we have as graduates and citizens.

Allow me to conclude with a quote from Sir Robert Borden, a Nova Scotian and Prime Minister of Canada during the trying years of WWI. Borden was talking about responsibilities — his words can apply equally to responsibilities to country and college — when he said, “Let us never forget the solemn truth that the nation is not constituted of the living alone. There are those as well who have passed away and those yet to be born. So this great responsibility comes to us as heirs of the past and trustees of the future. But with that responsibility there has come something greater still, the opportunity of proving ourselves worthy of it; and I pray that this may not be lost.”

Congratulations to all. Well done.