SFU honorary degree recipients' convocation addresses - June 2002
I told my host, Professor Rawicz, that the University asked me for a written version of my convocation address. Why is that: "Oh…they want to make sure you don’t say anything politically incorrect."
I’ll try to comply, but I can’t guarantee that I won’t err.
Graduands, I want to congratulate you on reaching an important goal in our life. Generally, it hasn’t always been easy. You have worked hard and can be proud of your achievement. It is one that hopefully, even in the passing of time, you will look back upon and savour.
As you move on through your lives you will, no doubt, plan and set up other goals and strive to reach them. I am not only speaking of academic and career decisions but also those involving interpersonal relationships. This is the subject I would like to discuss with you.
I ask you to reflect on what you are trying to achieve and what paths you may take to get there. From time to time you will likely consult with advisors, experts, teachers, parents, and friends. As a matter of fact, some may insist on telling you how to gage your life whether you ask for their advice or not. Parents, in particular are famous for that. However, keep in mind, no matter how well meaning these councilors are, ultimately the choices are yours. Yours advisors do not live with the consequences of your decisions…you do. It has been my own experience and my strong belief that it is most important to do the things that draw you and appeal to you, despite the seductive rewards of other paths.
For those of you who are willing to take the risk of blazing new trails you need to appreciate a reality of life. You will find that the more you deviate from conventional wisdom and the well-beaten paths, the more your consensus of agreement will diminish. Naturally, if you achieve your goal in spite of going against established views, it is especially sweet. But, even if your goal is not achieved, there still is a rich reward for your choice. You will experience the thrill and excitement of an adventure. I assure you … it will not be boring.
I want to ask you to develop a healthy skepticism when looking to experts to get advice. Experience doesn’t necessarily provide wisdom. I’m sure you’ve noticed that whereas many people learn from their mistakes, others do not. We do not, automatically, become wise with experience. (That, of course, includes me.)
To illustrate my point, I plagiarize a bit from my book, "The Laser Odyssey" and present three quotes for you to ponder:
"Everything that can be invented has been invented."
Charles H. Duel, the director of the United States Patent Office, 1889.
"Heavier than air flying machines are impossible."
Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, 1895.
"There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom."
Robert Millikin, winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, 1923.
I suggest that, if you develop a new idea you want to pursue, think about it, study it, and plan it. At that point, you have become an expert. So, despite advice to the contrary, have the confidence to go ahead.
Again, I congratulate you on your achievement and I wish you the best of luck in achieving your successes in your lives.
It is with a deep sense of pride and pleasure that I accept this honorary degree and the opportunity to address the Class of 2002. When my family first learned of this event they immediately asked: "How can you deliver an address without your 35mm slide show?" This question prompted me to think of celebrating your graduation and today’s World Environment Day. The day was established 30 years ago after the first United Nations Conference on the Environment in Stockholm. It focussed on the interdependence and interaction of people and their environment. One-hundred-and-eighty nations gathered to warn us, already 30 years ago, of climate changes, pollution of streams and rivers, scarcity of water, extinction of plant and animal species, and ensuing health problems on our planet.
Today Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, calls on us to shoulder responsibility for the environment and refers to World Environment Day as "one of the principal vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and action." Nowhere is this more urgent than here in our Lower Mainland region.
Your daily ascent to Academia on the mountain on carefully laid-out roads, gave you the pleasure of being close to nature in all seasons and then entering into a well-planned, man-made environment. This built form carefully and thoughtfully planned and designed by the architects Arthur Erickson and Geoffrey Massey, began in 1963. It allows all of us to pursue studies in an environment resembling Plato’s Academy. Centuries ago the Greek Philosopher Aristotle urged us to acquire sound moral and ethical values by saying "best is he who makes his own discoveries; good is he who listens to the wise." These words are still appropriate in today’s very difficult times.
In the next two decades twice as many people will live on the same amount of land in the Lower Mainland. We will have twice as many cars, yet we need increasingly more open space for our recreation. Land space is finite and human needs are infinite.
Vancouver’s air quality is the result of the increasing quantity of car exhausts. We have to change our lifestyle if we want to reduce the air quality destruction. We have to learn this locally, nationally and globally; to enjoy good health we have to change our way of living and working. We have to trade in our beloved SUV’s for something simple, perhaps a Mini Minor with Ballard’s battery or a car running on hydrogen. I hope Canada will bear witness to this idea by signing the Kyoto Accord.
In the next decade just east of here a new community will arise. I want to commend the Board of Governors and the entire University administration for its bold "Green Building Guidelines" implying respect for the unique mountain environment, as well as the concept that land is a resource and not a commodity for sale. Therefore I am encouraged by SFU’s important Vision Statement for the proposed University which states: "Ownership of all land will remain with the University and properties become available to developers through long term leases." Now, as concerned citizens, we must watch how the developers will perform.
Learning about the environment should start in pre-kindergarten where our individual behaviour is shaped. In the last decades we have seen some changes: no smoking in certain places, reduced water consumption in public washrooms, sorting garbage, lawn sprinkling regulations, re-cycling procedures. This is only a beginning, but this is not enough. We must revise our building standards and codes to construct more efficiently and encourage re-use of materials. Better and smarter use of public transportation is essential or walking to our destinations; better still, making that car trip unnecessary by bringing living and working closer together with comprehensive neighbourhood planning which supports a human scale for the diversity of life. It is increasingly important to choose where we live, where we work, where we shop, where we send our kids to school and where we find recreation. These functions are all interdependent and should be planned as an integrated and environmentally responsible community. We must learn to live more modestly and yet we must not lose sight of our innate need to remain close to nature. I am encouraged by a recent local initiative by B.C. Hydro, in conjunction with developers in the UK and Australia, to harness energy from ocean waves on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Hydro expects the project, the first of its kind in Canada, to begin generating electricity from ocean waves by 2004.
The Bible tells us: "Do not hurt the earth, neither the sea nor the trees." This wisdom should instil in us the joy of life to carry on and guide our work and stimulate our imagination. I dream of Green Cities with Green Buildings where rural and urban activities live in harmony. This means community gardens, urban forests, river parks, nature reserves, woodlands, and usable Green Roofs. It means the application of old and new environmental technologies to purify waste water, and restore waste sites with plants.
It means collaboration among professionals and between the professions and industry so that building and site become one and the city fits the region. "Achieving a fit" between the built form and the land has been my dictum. This can only be done if all our design-related professions collaborate and thereby demonstrate co-operatively their relevance in meeting the enormous developmental challenges facing our increasingly crowded urban regions. The planet’s survival is at stake. The global population will double in this century, two-thirds of whom will live in the city and all of us will live by the city.
What then are our tasks? It used to be the 3 R’s - writing, reading and ‘rithmetic; now we have to add three more R’s:
1. RESPECT for each other and for nature and natural systems
2. RESPONSIBILITY for the Environment.
3. RISK TAKING with innovation
How do we implement these tasks?
We need VISION, IMAGINATION, AND MOTIVATION or VIM. The planet needs peacemakers, healers and restorers: people with moral courage who will make our cities better places to live and who are willing to take risks in achieving it.
As leaders of the next generation you should be guided by the 3 P’s: Patience, Politeness, and Persistence. These 3 P’s allow you to believe in yourselves and allow you to work with others.
So go forth with your newly acquired knowledge and make the world a better place to live. Thereby you will make Canada a country continuing at peace, committed to sustainability of its people and their environment, thereby achieving leadership among the nations.
I would like to conclude with the spirit and words of Dr. Seuss, an author whom my family cherishes. Granddaughter Ariel found for me a wonderful quotation from Dr. Seuss' own Graduation speech in his book ‘Oh, the places you’ll go’:
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will indeed!
(98 and _ percent guaranteed.)
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea,
you're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So... get on your way!
Welcome to the families of the graduands, and the guests and friends here today.
My warmest congratulations to the graduands. This is one of the highlights of your lives, one that you and your families will cherish forever. Today marks the beginning -- not the end -- of your educational careers. Learning is a lifelong experience.
As I address 600 bright, educated people, I realize it has taken you four or more years to earn your respective degrees. It has taken me 50 years to earn mine! I guess I’m a slow learner.
Although it did not take me long to learn what is important in life. Good health, loving family, dear friends, a warm heart, and a helping hand for all others.
Today I am being honoured as a philanthropist and humanitarian. I am most appreciative and extend my sincerest thanks to Simon Fraser University and to all of the committee who made this very exciting event possible.
I am humbled by this tribute, as it has always been important to me to be aware of other people’s needs and dreams.
When I was informed that I would have to say a few words I asked myself "What would I want to hear if I were graduating today?" What message could I give you that would have some meaning?
I am not gong to tell you what a tough world it is, or that there are high mountains to climb, nor how rocky the road to success could be. You know all of that, and you must harbour many fears that go with that knowledge.
Not one of us has achieved success solely on our own efforts, whether it is in family, in business, the arts, academia, or the professions. We are all here because someone helped us. It could have been a parent, a spouse, a partner, a friend, or a child.
Perhaps the support was financial, perhaps it was motivational, perhaps it was spiritual, but support it was.
I am very fortunate to have the kind of support that I speak of. My husband and my family have always encouraged me and provided me with the opportunity to pursue my goal, that of helping others, be it financial through philanthropy or comfort through friendship.
One of my grandsons, a graduate of U.C.L.A., called me and said "Grandma, tell the graduands about your bows." I replied: "Robert, I have never talked about myself and I am not going to start now." He assured me that there was a moral to the story, so I am going to share it with you.
When hair bows were the height of fashion, wanting originality, I decided to create my own, even though I did not have any experience along this line.
Surprisingly, they were much admired and when one of my daughters suggested that I sell some I replied "No way! Who would buy something that I made!!"
"Try it," Sandra said, "and if you are successful you can donate the money to people who are less fortunate."
I did try. I hand made and sold $115,000 worth of bows with all of the monies going to a variety of worthwhile causes.
If I hadn’t had the encouragement, if I hadn’t tried, I would never have known what I was capable of.
It gave me so much confidence and pride and enabled me to try other venues that I was afraid to attempt before.
I learned that every new door that you open has so many surprise gifts behind it if you only turn the knob.
I swallowed my fear and insecurity and started to play bridge, a past time that I thoroughly enjoy. The door that I opened and the gift that I received was the many new good friends and close relationships that I cherish. I say to myself, "Why did I not try sooner! Fear and fear of failure.
You will walk away today with a degree in your hand that no one can ever take away from you.
Some of you will be thrilled and some of you may ask "Is this what I really want?"
If you think you would like to be a musician, a writer, an artist or an entrepreneur, try it. Do not be afraid. Take the time to make your own dreams come true.
A few things to remember as you climb the ladder of success:
1. Do not get to the top at someone else’s expense. The price you pay will not be worth it.
2. Be a good listener, Don’t ask someone "How are you?" and then ignore the answer. Listen with your heart.
3. If you make a difference in someone else’s life, it will make a big difference in yours.
4. I have learned that everyone wants to live at the top of the mountain but all the happiness and growth occurs while you are climbing.
Do you say "Thank you" enough? Do you say "I love you" enough? Do you say "Can I help you" enough? Do you ever say "I’m sorry?"
There is great satisfaction in personal giving. The kind that few know about giving to one person at a time, each day at a time and offering to do so without being asked. In this way you allow the person to maintain their dignity.
I am going to close with a special quote from the Talmud:
Not what you get, But what you give
Measure the worth, Of the life you live.
Thank you.Back to top