Convocation Comment

Oct 17, 2002, vol. 25, no. 4



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On Oct. 3 and 4 SFU awarded a total of five honorary degree. Those receiving degrees included Dr. Victor Ling, Angus Reid, Carole Taylor, Shirley Tilghman, and Kooi Ong Tong. Below are some of their remarks to graduates.


Dr. Victor Ling

I have been a cancer scientist for most of my
professional career.

We know that cancer affects one in three persons in this country and this disease, one way or another, touches everyone. For all of us, progress against cancer seems so slow. Some people have suggested to me that it must be very depressing working in a cancer environment. I have not found that to be the case. I have learned how we fight cancer is a metaphor for life, for how we deal with intractable problems in society. We need to deal with them honestly, with knowledge, and with compassion.

This hit home to me one day, by a chance encounter many years ago when I was a young scientist at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto. It was in the early 1980s and I was sharing an elevator with a cancer patient who had an IV in her arm and she had lost all her hair from chemotherapy. I, on the other hand, had a full mop of hair wearing it long, not to be fashionable but I was simply too busy to get a haircut. She looked at me, and said, not unkindly, “I hate you. I have lost all my hair and you have all yours.” I didn't know what to say, feeling somewhat embarrassed. I was a molecular biologist, not a counsellor nor a physician. I thought for a minute and blurted out just before she disembarked from the elevator. “What are you complaining about? The fact that the chemotherapy was killing your hair cells probably meant that they are killing your cancer cells as well.” She paused and looked at me, she smiled and said, “Thank you, you have made my day,” just before the elevator doors closed. I was amazed how that little bit of knowledge had changed her outlook on her problem.

That incident taught me a lesson - that cancer is not simply fought by scientists in a laboratory with test tubes and computers but it must also be fought at another level, understanding and meeting the needs of the patient with knowledge and compassion.

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Angus Reid
Ever since it was founded 37 years ago Simon
Fraser University has been a leader in innovation and excellence in the field of higher education.

It has shown great flexibility in adapting programs to meet the needs of the community and its students without sacrificing the standards of scholarship and education that are the trademarks of a great university.
Being a pollster and sociologist forces you to think about the intersection between history and biography - the link between what people tell us about their lives and what we see occurring in the broader world. As I reflect on the situation and prospects confronting the graduates here today and the millions of others around the world who have toiled for the last three years or more to earn your piece of parchment, it is difficult to imagine a university experience that has involved so much change in the outside world.

When most of you started your studies it appeared that we were on the cusp of a new wired world of infinite possibilities held together by the Internet and its associated technologies. It seemed as if a new world order was emerging from the shadow of the cold war - a world where democracy and global trade were growing hand in hand to produce a material improvement in the quality of life of all 6 billion inhabitants of this planet. Finally it seemed as if we had reached “the end of history” an expression coined by U.S. sociologist Francis Fukyama in the mid 1990s to refer, among other things, to the victory of economic liberalism and market economics.

And now, as you graduate, this new world appears to be dissolving like a balloon quickly running out of air. The Internet bubble has burst and with it hundreds of thousands of technology jobs. When the terrorist-controlled jets hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon they burst not just the walls of those buildings but the fragile skin of a new post-cold war world still in its infancy. As for market economics, the fate of economies such as Thailand and Argentina, like the fate of corporate CEO's at companies like WorldCom and Enron suggest that history isn't over but may just be beginning.

We are living in extraordinary times, pregnant with both adversity and opportunity. I wish I could stand here and give you a confident set of predictions about what the future will hold.

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Shirely Tilghman
I would like to deliver a single message to
you: and that is the importance of your becoming engaged in public affairs and public service.

Having grown up in Canada and then having spent most of my adult life in the United States, I am deeply admiring of the unique spirit of community and the sense of responsibility for the well being of the whole that for me defines the Canadian character. In the United States the rights of the individual to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are built into the constitution and those rights are considered transcendent. This helps to explain the exuberant vitality of the U.S., its creative and diverse cultural life, and its staggeringly inventive economy. It also explains the unconscionable absence of laws to regulate guns, which leads inexorably to the U.S. having the highest murder rate in the free world and to tragic events such as the shootings at Columbine high school. The rights of the individual, for good and ill, trump everything else.
In Canada, respect for individual rights is leavened with a commitment to the commonweal, and therein lies Canada's great strength. But the social contract must be renewed with each generation.
In British Columbia, you know better than I the pressing issues that need citizen involvement. Two in particular come to my mind: Is the support for public education going to be allowed to further erode or will the provincial and federal governments recognize that education is the best investment they can make in B.C.'s future? Will this bountiful country founded by immigrants turn its back on the next wave of newcomers in search of liberty and prosperity?
In my own field of science and technology, the world is searching for the best ways to benefit from the tremendous influx of new knowledge that seems to accelerate every day, with reports in newspapers and on television of the possibility of cloning a human or reconstructing aging organs from stem cells - prospects that both excite and unsettle us.
Now being unsettled is nothing new to us as human beings. What is different about our contemporary era is the swiftly quickening pace of discovery.
To maximize the good that can come from this scientific revolution, we will need citizens who have been trained to apply the ideas taken from moral philosophy, the law, politics and public policy and who are unafraid to engage and debate scientific issues.

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Kooi Ong Tong
I confess that when I first came to SFU in
1979, I did not know very much about the university.
In fact, I came simply because it was one of the universities I could afford, an important criterion for a member of a family of nine siblings whose childhood involved sleeping in a single room of a wooden house where the roof was made of dried coconut leaves. But like love, I soon learned to enjoy and appreciate the university, holding with me until today many fond memories.
My own stay in SFU has brought me close to a certain topic. It concerns educating people, especially the poor who cannot meet the cost of today's education. People of different races, of different religions, and of different nationalities of the world.
The evidence is compelling - those with education have a far greater potential for generating income compared to those without. In the poorer countries of the world, the only avenue to escape life-long poverty is to gain an education. A society with more educated people will be a richer society, economically, culturally and socially. When people are educated, with more opportunities for growth and advancement, and possess a greater degree of wealth, they are more likely to be democratic, and less likely to become anarchists and extremists.
I have chosen to address this topic for three reasons. The first is deeply personal. I come from a poor family in a relatively poor country. I have been witness to what the education I received from this University can do.
I am also acutely aware that there is an increasingly vocal argument that the world, as we know it today, the capitalist world model, will change owing to increases in urbanization and democracy. Urbanization will remove sources of cheap labour, while increased democracy will further compound social costs on the world, through greater demand for public expenditures on education, health care, and the like. This will lead to a long-term structural squeeze on profits of production, making the capitalist system unprofitable for the capitalists. I think proponents of this theory miss the point. Increased education, urbanization, improvements in income and wealth help generate a greater level of economic activities for all. A wealthy neighbour is a potential consumer of the goods and services that you have to offer. You gain nothing in beggaring your neighbour.

Thirdly, I believe that making education widely accessible is a long-term solution to the many problems confronting the world today. I believe the world is presently infatuated with short-term gains. We need only be reminded of the corporations that are engaged in creative accounting for the purpose of enhancing their short-term profitability to recognise this.
Similarly, governments and countries too are often only interested in achieving immediate results.

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