Simon Fraser University

Convocation Addresses

June 13, 2002 , vol. 24, no. 4

Two-time Nobel prize nominee Theodore Maiman, landscape architect Cornelia Oberlander, and philanthropist Rosalie Segal, were presented with honorary degrees at the June convocation. Here are excerpts from their addresses. The complete text can be found on the web here.

Excerpts from speeches by faculty members who also spoke at convocation will appear in the next edition of SFU News.

Theodore Maiman

It is important to do the things that appeal to you.

Graduands, I want to congratulate you on reaching an important goal in your life . . . You have worked hard and can be proud of your achievement . . . .

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 . . . Some may insist on telling you how to gauge your life whether you ask for their advice or not. Parents, in particular are famous for that. However . . . no matter how well meaning these counsellors are, ultimately the choices are yours. Your 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 . . . .

Cornelia Oberlander

We have to change our way of living and working.

I am prompted 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 focused on the interdependence and interaction of people and their environment . . . .

Today Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, calls on us to shoulder responsibility for the environment . . . 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 . . . .

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 . . . .

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. . . .

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 . . . .

Rosalie Segal

No one has succeeded solely on their own efforts.

It has taken you four or more years to earn your 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.

I am humbled by this tribute, as it has always been important to me to be aware of other people's needs and dreams . . . .

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 . . . called me and said, “Grandma, tell the graduands about your bows . . . .”

When hair bows were the height of fashion . . . 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 . . . . 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 . . . .