Good evening, ladies and gentlemen -whoops, maybe I should stop right there. Graduates, this maybe the first moment in your new life- you have in one moment graduated from being a student to a “lady or gentleman”. I am sure you are more than prepared for this!
My name is Rose Wilson and I know that I speak for my fellow honorary degree recipients Don Sobey, Tom Traves and my brother in law- David Wilson when I say how humble and proud I feel to be honoured by you and this great institution.
When George Cooper called me to tell me of this honour and after I had hung up the phone and recovered from the shock- which made me sit down in a hurry- I went down a great flight of memory lane.
I have been to quite a few convocations in my day, and although I have a few bits of paper that say that I can do this or that, I am willing to admit, I have never actually been to my own convocation. This certainly made me wonder why-
Now the first opportunity may have been from my small elementary school. There was definitely no possibility here. My parents must have had strange ideas on how best to educate a young person as this school was attached to a teachers training college for missionaries- of what faith seemed a bit vague, but they were definitely going out to far flung corners of the world to spread the word. Not only that, it espoused the Froebel technique of teaching. As I remember, students were exposed to all sorts of interesting information and from that knowledge was gleaned- good for world affairs, but very poor for arithmetic! My strength seemed to be in giggling- which always featured prominently in my report card. Definitely no
hope of anything celebratory there- we were too close to God.
The next opportunity for a graduating ceremony would have been from my second school- all girls here. One had to pass an entrance exam in several subjects and as I know my knowledge of many of these was definitely limited, I think God may have come into play and performed a miracle!
Our headmistress was a very starchy individual who seemed exceptionally old- probably not so. Every new entrant into the school was interviewed with their parents. My parents seemed very impressed- definitely the only thing that sparked my interest was the question “did I know the facts of life”. My parents nodded sagely but actually said nothing. Being sure that I was very well equipped with this knowledge even though my parents had not given me the true facts, I had this awful feeling to do what I was best at- giggle. It certainly took a huge amount of will power to overcome this.
Now Mrs. Starchy- I will have to apologise to her, as her name completely escapes me, prided herself on teaching every single new girl during her first year. The course she chose was named “Family Life”. This would encompass a lot of things, but having other girls in my class who had older siblings in the school, I was told that the highlight of the course would be the talk on sex education. I can honestly say that every class started with great anticipation, but interest quickly fell off when it became obvious that this was not “THE DAY”. When “THE DAY” did arrive; it was obvious before a word was said. Mrs. Starchy looked quite on edge when she entered the class room; she even appeared to be dressed slightly differently. There was no doubt to any of us eleven year olds in the room that this was it! The atmosphere was electric. She must have felt the tension- there was no way she would not have! However, when the class appeared to be about firemen, we all looked at each other in a very puzzled fashion. What an earth did this have to do with sex. A large fire event was described- hoses were rolled out and one hose had to be put into another- you are just going to have to use your imaginations from here on in- it was definitely a far stretch for us. When heat started to be mentioned it was all too much for me. Surely, I began to think, this is not just another analogy for passion- could we possibly be going to get down to brass tacks and address feelings? I could feel a huge pocket of air passing up from my lungs, and a huge peel of laughter coming forth. I had a pocket full of handkerchiefs and after a loud coughing fit, while I frantically pulled them out, I stuffed them into my mouth while turning red and flinging my arm in the air, while asking to be excused from the room. By the time the door closed to the class room, I exploded. The thought offiremen being the only suitable procreators was just too much for me. After a lengthy visit to the washrooms, I composed myself and felt able to return. Afterwards my fellow students thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life missing something that had been anticipated for weeks. They did admit that the firemen were the highlight!
Well, no graduating ceremony from this school at seventeen. I have often wondered whether the local fire brigade got wind of the fact as to how they were being “used” and deemed a large gathering at this institution as positively not safe!
One of the most memorable addresses at a convocation that I attended was given by Mordecai Richler. He told us all that he had very badly wanted to go to McGill, but that the door had been firmly shut. He admitted that upon reflection, he did not hold a grudge as he knew his high school years had been spent not often attending school, but going to the local pool hall. However, he assured us that the life lessons learnt there had stood him in good stead. It passed through my mind, while listening, that I should not feel too badly about the fact that my best subject had been giggling. After all, keeping a good sense of humour about life is going to get you through a lot of things.
So graduates, if I am to impart some advice to you for the next stage of your life, I would say enjoy yourself, seize every opportunity that comes your way and even create your own opportunities. Kings College has given you the most wonderful education and I know you are all going to go forth, spread the word and conqueror. All the very best of luck to you.