A meeting of minds

April 29, 2004, Vol. 30, no. 1
By Milton Wong

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We are gathered at Christ Church Cathedral for today's extraordinary convocation because Simon Fraser University concurs with Vancouver's interfaith community that this extraordinary meeting of minds should be shared as widely as possible.

Like the leaders we are gathered here to honour today, Simon Fraser University works to build a society strengthened and enriched by passionate inquiry and fearless debate. And, like these leaders, our university looks with optimism to the future, to a time when human endeavor is limited not by iniquity, but only by imagination.

I would like to reflect for a moment on those ideals, and on the important role that a university - every university - claims in the development of a civil society.

A university should be inclusive, expansive, responsive and characterized by profound curiosity. It should be sustained by the vision and grace of the community in which it resides. And, in return, it is compelled to serve fully the diverse intellectual needs of its community.

Five years ago, the administrative and academic communities of Simon Fraser University joined together to craft a statement of purpose for our institution. Their challenge was to clarify and to articulate the institutional values that inform and inspire the daily activities of our faculty, staff and students. Their efforts resulted in a set of guiding principles: a universal commitment to discovery, diversity and dialogue undertaken in the cause of building a more robust and ethical society.

These are, of course, exemplary values. But our daily challenge remains to find ways to bring these values and commitments to reality in the daily life of our university - to give them power and authority within the institution. It is fitting, therefore, that the individuals whom we celebrate here today embody those qualities and virtues to which our university aspires, while their personal histories testify to the transforming power of values lived.

Our esteemed guests, assembled here today from their homes around the world, have not wavered in their pursuit of truth, justice, peace and freedom for all human kind.

They have led revolutions - political, social, and spiritual - armed only with their words, their profound personal convictions and their enormous moral authority. They have peaceably navigated the myriad obstacles placed in their paths, including persecution and prison, to engage whole nations in discussion and debate. And they have shown their willingness to continue that dialogue until there is, at last, some promise of peace and reconciliation.

A university also has the ability, and even the moral obligation, to help to improve lives disadvantaged by war, poverty, famine and disease, and especially by ignorance.

Simon Fraser University will be forever proud to claim its association with these visionaries who exemplify our cherished ideals of discovery, diversity and dialogue.

Because it is only through knowledge, and its most valuable fruit, wisdom, that we can ever hope to bring about that peace and social justice that our honoured guests have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to achieve.

Professor Shirin Ebadi (left) was hooded by VP-academic John Waterhouse at the special convocation at Christ Church Cathedral on April 20.

View the archived web cast of the special convocation ceremony at:

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