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Nelly Auersperg - Convocation address

June 4, 2008

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I am delighted to be here, and I want to thank the Simon Fraser University Senate, President Stevenson and Chancellor Louie very much for the great honour of awarding me the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.  

I am also very pleased for this opportunity to meet, even from a distance, all of you, the students, because we have something important in common: we have all chosen science as a career. Of course, there are many different kinds of science and dozens of career choices within each one of these; but I think that we have certain attitudes in common: a sense of curiosity, a drive to understand why things work the way they do, a wish to create, and often a capacity to see beauty in weird places – in a drop of water, the design of a leaf or the harmony of mathematical equations. So, I want to congratulate you on your career choice but remember that I am totally, completely biased. I have spent much of my life doing biomedical research.  My professional life has been wonderful and so exciting that I am having a very hard time to quit, though I am supposed to because I am old.

I am sure that most of you realize that the degree that you will receive today will come with quite a few social privileges. It will enable you to get better jobs, higher salaries, more career choices and more interesting work. Furthermore, your university background will make you more knowledgeable and interesting people. But as you well know, new privileges usually come with new responsibilities. I have always felt that I had no business taking advantage of my education and the resulting opportunities without giving something back to the society that made it all possible – because don’t forget, in many parts of the world, you would never be able to achieve what you achieved today, for many reasons – political, economic, social, cultural, whatever.

So, I want to end this speech with two wishes:

First, I hope that your careers will be your hobbies. They should be fun and exciting and not just a means to make a living. And it is largely up to you and your attitudes whether you will achieve this.
Secondly, I hope that you will use your knowledge to try to make this a better world; through service, new discoveries, teaching, money -whatever – the opportunities are endless. And don’t ever think that you, alone, cannot make a difference. Very few people in history have made a major impact singlehandedly. But if all of us contribute in a small way, together we can make this a better world.
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