Honorary doctorate recipients address Class of 2012
This spring, Concordia handed out 5,000 graduate and undergraduate degrees to the Class of 2012. The university also awarded eight honorary doctorates to a variety of outstanding individuals. After receiving their degrees, the honourees addressed the graduates seated before them. They provided insightful lessons and encouragement for the throngs preparing to take the next important step in their lives.
Craig and Marc Kielburger
The first to receive their honorary degrees were brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger, renowned social activists, and founders of the international charity Free the Children and related social enterprise Me to We. The two brothers have received numerous accolades for their tireless campaigns to educate and empower children around the world.
Craig spoke on behalf of himself and his brother. He implored Concordia’s arts and science graduating class to think not only about how they will benefit from their post-secondary education but also how it will allow them to help others.
Success, he said, is much more than the title on your business card, or the amount of money in your savings account. One of the most important aspects of success is “how you choose to become engaged in community service and volunteerism.”
Kielburger congratulated the graduates on all they have accomplished. “But most important, I congratulate you on all that you will do; those small acts of great love that truly change the world.”
George Springate, Canada’s senior citizenship judge, former member of the Quebec national assembly and former spokesperson for the Montreal Police Service, was awarded an honorary doctorate during the convocation ceremony for the Faculty of Arts and Science.
“Not only Montreal, Quebec and Canada need you, but the world needs you,” he told the newly minted graduates. “And you may be asking yourselves … are we ready? You’re damn right you’re ready. Can you do what you’re supposed to do? You’re damn right you can.”
The gruff but amiable former football player with the Montreal Alouettes, who has a Grey Cup ring from 1970, explained that the graduates all possess the five most important traits for succeeding and becoming a valued member of society: the ability to make sacrifices, determination, pride, the ability to work within a team, and, last but not least, discipline.
Before congratulating the members of the graduating class, Springate implored them to show compassion to those who don’t share their good fortune.
Graham Fraser, Canada’s Commissioner of Official Languages, was awarded an honorary doctorate during the convocation ceremony for the John Molson School of Business (JMSB).
During his address, the acclaimed author, journalist and defender of the language rights of official language communities touted the privileged position bilingual and multilingual graduates enjoy in the workplace and society.
“If you have learned French, you have access to an extraordinarily vibrant, cultural, social and political society,” he said. “If you have not, it’s not too late, and the very process of learning your second or third language will expand your horizons, increase your social and interpersonal skills and give you new perceptions."
Beyond the importance of acquiring a second or third language, Fraser chose not to impart much advice. Instead, he encouraged the graduates to go out and learn their own life lessons. He recalled being fired from a job, saying it was one of his best learning experiences. “I learned as much, if not more, from failure as I did from success,” he said.
The current president and CEO of TELUS, and Concordia alumnus, Darren Entwistle received his honorary doctorate during the second convocation ceremony for the John Molson School of Business.
Entwistle encouraged the graduates to strive to become leaders in their chosen fields. “Canada has a deep, deep need for the future leaders resonant in this room … who are going to guide our nation’s development in an increasingly complex world,” he said.
But Entwistle also warned the graduates not to let their ambition stand in the way of their humanity. “Be passionate about giving back to those in need,” he said. “Volunteer your precious time and your skills towards building healthier, more vibrant and more caring communities.”
John de Chastelain
Addressing the graduating class of Concordia’s Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science, retired general and former ambassador to the United States, John de Chastelain remarked that as a history graduate, he admired them for having the smarts to receive a technical degree. “You here are going to receive degrees that I was never clever enough to get, and I’m in awe of your achievement,” he said,
De Chastelain received his honorary doctorate in recognition of his significant contributions to conflict resolution, most notably in Northern Ireland. During his speech, he spoke of the one thing that came up again and again during his long career as a member of Canada’s Armed Forces and as a diplomat: his tendency to make too swift decisions or snap judgments and not take the time to consider that many issues have many sides to them.
He recalled several incidents when his mind was made up about something, only for him to be pleasantly surprised at the outcome. When he was overseeing the decommissioning of arms in Northern Ireland, people wondered how he could sit down with paramilitary groups responsible for heinous crimes.
“The leaders of the IRA, Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association, who had been responsible for these acts, were meeting with us because they wanted the killing to end, and they wanted the instruments of the killing to be put aside.”
De Chastelain said it took years of sitting down with the opposing groups to engender enough trust and confidence to achieve that end. “So the first impressions may not always be exactly right.”
Since they are graduating into a world with innumerable problems, de Chastelain said it might be tempting for Concordia’s newly minted graduates to despair being part of the solution. But he argued that the technological know-how of an engineering and computer science education should serve them well, since so many of the problems demand technological solutions.
“You have gained qualifications today that will make you eminently suitable to meet those challenges,” he said, before encouraging them to try new things even though they may seem risky at first. “If it’s not the thing you want, change. Hindsight’s 20/20. But it’s about the only thing that is.”
African filmmaking pioneer Gaston Kaboré may be the first honorary doctorate to burst into a song during a speech to a graduating class at Concordia. He sang a short song in his native tongue from his first film, Wend Kuuni (God’s Gift, 1982), and the crowd at the Faculty of Fine Arts convocation ceremony cheered loudly in appreciation.
During his address, Kaboré talked about the inspiration behind his filmmaking. He thanked the university for recognizing his efforts with an honorary degree, a gesture which he said touched him deeply.
In closing, Kaboré told the graduates, “The most important thing is what you have in your heart and your soul. I’m counting on you to go further, and higher, to do better than I tried to do, and I’m counting on you to be the example for me, as I continue to make films, because after all, that’s all I’ve ever learned to do.
• Honorary Doctorates for Spring 2012
• Archived Spring 2012 Convocation Ceremonies