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Mossadiq Umedaly - Convocation address

June 3, 2008

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Chancellor Louie, President Stevenson, Faculty, honored graduates, family members and friends, thank you.    

Of the honors and awards I have received in my lifetime – of the many demonstrations that I have been welcomed and accepted into the Canadian community – this is the sweetest.

To understand how much this means to me, you should know how much it means to me to be a Canadian.

I came to this country to go to school in 1970.  I was a 19-year-old Ugandan following a slightly unusual path.

Among my friends, at least among those adventurous enough to go away to university, most went to England – at the time, the seat of power in the British Commonwealth.

A few, more interested in being at what they believed was the centre of world power, went to the United States.

But I saw something different and much more appealing in Canada.

I saw a responsible, humble democracy – a place where then-Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau was pursuing a “just society,” in Canada and around the world.

Looking out, from the middle of Africa, this was a beacon of light.

This judgment was borne out two years later, when Idi Amin turned Uganda into a bloodbath and Canada accepted me, my family, and many others as refugees.

Canada did this with the trust that we would not be a burden to this country. Indeed, they hoped that we would make a contribution.

I have tried, in the years since, to return this gift – to live up to the promise that is Canada.

And it has been a source of pride and pleasure that I have been able to work, here and around the world, on endeavors that are truly worthwhile.

Whether building a medical university in the developing world or searching for business, technical, social and political solutions to a gathering environmental and energy crisis, I have risen, most days, with the conviction that I was doing something that held out both promise and opportunity.

I learned this lesson from His Highness The Aga Khan, truly a man of wisdom and vision, and spiritual leader of my faith, the Ismaili Muslim faith.

I learned that it is urgent, necessary and richly rewarding to do things that are worthwhile.

I learned that if you do all that you can do, with honesty, with integrity – with tenacity – the results will always be positive.

It was certainly so in my case. I have enjoyed successes that I could never have imagined.

I have also wrestled with setbacks that seem contrived to test me.

For example, I was diagnosed a couple of years ago with Lymphoid cancer.

It’s treatable, but not curable.

I have endured the treatment and I can say, now, that this disease might ultimately kill me – but it’s not going to kill me today.

I can also say, proudly, that it has made very little difference to the way I live my life. I have not left my list of dreams or aspirations unattended.   And neither should you.

We should always be aware that we are given no extra time: we have only one precious life, one opportunity to make the contributions that each of us can.

There is no excuse for living your life as if there is no hurry – as if you have another 50 or 60 years in which to accomplish your goals.

There is no extra time. In the face of a changing climate – in the face of diminishing resources and advancing poverty – the world hangs in the balance.

And few people on this fragile planet are as well-placed, as well-educated and as well-resourced as you are to lead us in a better direction.

You – the graduates we celebrate today – are all blessed with great gifts.

You have youth and health.  You have skills, competence, and resources.

By global standards, even the poorest among you enjoy a degree of wealth that billions would envy.

You live in the best country in the world and you have, by your own vision and tenacity, secured a degree from one of its best universities.

In that light – at this time – it is traditional for a convocation speaker to plead, to urge you to take up those gifts and use them in service to your society and the world.

But I am not going to plead. I am going to insist:

Waste no precious time. Begin today.

Begin to contribute to things that are truly worthwhile.

Do those things that hold great opportunity.

In every decision you make, in every action you take, be a leader.

Knowing what I know – about Canada, about this fine university and, accordingly, about your capacity – I can say that the world is lucky to have you.

So, and again I insist, prove that it’s true. Prove that you can live your lives in a way that honors others.

That develops and sustains society and the world around you.

Prove that you can find the solutions – that you can protect a civil society, nurture a healthy environment and do your part to build a robust and sustainable economy.

Do these things locally, nationally, or internationally and your successes will benefit the whole world.

Do them faithfully, and you will almost certainly earn the physical and emotional rewards that distinguish Canadians among the wealthiest and luckiest people on Earth.

This I can promise: in the hard times and in the good of times, you will find no richer rewards than the satisfaction that comes from service – from doing not just the right thing, but the best thing.

Thank you. To SFU for this fine and valued honor.  Thank you to my family and friends for your care and support.  And thank you all for listening and for your attention.

I wish you all a lifetime of continued success.

Thank you.
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