(June 5, 1997, Gazette)
I can't begin to tell you how honored I feel to be here today -- not only to receive this unexpected and special degree from Memorial University of Newfoundland -- but also to be able to share with you, the graduating students, your special day. I know how hard you have worked for this moment, and I am proud to celebrate it with you.
While in my studio writing these few paragraphs, I thought back to my own graduation day at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto, of the exciting, hard-working four years that led me to that moment, and of the things that today remain in my mind as still important. I thought of the many good friends I made and I remember the hours we spent talking, discussing, philosophizing and arguing about art, artists, our plans for the future and how we would fit into...or even alter in some small way...that future world. How we might "make a difference." I'm sure that you have all done exactly those same things in the past few years on this campus. Always remember those times, because they are precious, and not only because they are your memories. Remember them because it is so important for you to keep as part of your future selves this way of creative thinking.
As a visual artist, I know that making images is primarily a matter of conceptualizing...of seeing and thinking, followed by the progressive process of making those thoughts come to life on a canvas or paper. In other words, artists don't paint things, they paint ideas. I'm sure that this is true for composers and writers as well. And to extend this thought further, perhaps we can apply it to what you wish to do with your lives from this moment of graduation onwards. It is terribly important to treasure and sustain your natural senses of wonder, curiosity, questioning, and imagination, in whatever you do. Yes, it's a hard world out there, and I'm often amazed at how quickly that world asks young people to stifle their imaginations...to refrain from bringing to life their fresh points of view. Sometimes we are even encouraged to believe that the road to success lies through conformity. To me, that is a frightening thought indeed.
All important changes for the good come from a bright, active intellect, an awareness of the world around us, a caring about that part of the world which holds our main interest, and lastly about the desire to contribute in some vibrant way, to that world -- no matter what the field. Yes, it may sometimes be the tougher way to go, but I can promise you that it will also be the most interesting and rewarding way, too.
I first came to Newfoundland in 1971 to teach a summer art course in Hibb's Cove on Conception Bay. For the next 15 years I "back-and-forthed" from Ontario until finally, 10 years ago, I moved here permanently. Now I wish that I had made that move years earlier. So regardless of what many others may tell you, this magic island is truly a wonderful place for you to make your start...providing that you will use your own creative instincts to make innovative plans for building your own future, rather than waiting for others to make decisions on what and where your life ought to be about.
Again as a visual artist, I know that our creativity is the very basis of our human uniqueness. And the instinct to think and plan creatively doesn't have to be just in the making of images, music or stories -- it might be in the fields of teaching, law, medicine or business. To pursue your own personal dream with passion and intelligence, no matter where it lies, is the biggest high there is. To make a difference for the better with your one and only unique life may be one of the reasons that we're all here anyway. It is also, perhaps, akin to standing on top of the highest cliff, and shouting to the world "I am here."
So may I end this little chat with my warmest congratulations to you all upon your accomplishments of today, and follow that with my heartfelt best wishes for your adventurous future, which will begin tomorrow.