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(November 2, 2000, Gazette)

Convocation address by
Dr. Axel Meisen,
president and vice-chancellor

Dr. Axel MeisenPhoto by Chris Hammond

Congratulations to you, our graduates, and to you, the parents, relatives and friends of the graduates. Graduation is a major accomplishment and it is the result of hard work, dedication and considerable sacrifice. You all have good reason to be very proud.

I also wish to congratulate our honorary degree recipient,
Dr. Antonine Maillet. The honour which the university bestows on her today is most deserved. However, I will leave it to our university orator, Prof. Shane O’Dea, to present the honorary graduate later in this ceremony.

Let me share with you now some observations on the university and some thoughts about your future.

Without doubt, Memorial University is one of the finest comprehensive universities in this country with a record of accomplishment that now spans eight decades. In fact, we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the opening of Memorial University College on September 13 of this year.

For the past 50 years, Memorial University has been a full, degree-granting university. Memorial has matured into a world-class university while recognizing its special role as the only university in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Leading universities always grow and change. As you and your family walked across the campus today, you could see evidence of many recent physical changes. The St. John’s campus has been transformed from a strictly functional campus to a more park-like campus. This transformation was partly the consequence of a careful plan which saw the planting of trees and shrubs to create a natural environment conducive to study and scholarship. Visitors and students now comment on the beauty of the campus walks. The campus is part of the Grand Concourse and Pippy Park and work is currently underway to create the MUN Visitors’ Walk. Some of these changes were made possible with the aid of the Johnson Family Foundation.

As many of you also know first-hand, we have also made major progress in the quality of student life, education and scholarship.

Improving student life on campus was a primary goal of our successful Opportunity Fund, which raised almost $60 million in public and private donations. This achievement would have been impossible without the generous support of individuals, organizations, corporations, the provincial government as well as our faculty, staff, students and alumni.

The results of the Opportunity Fund campaign and related initiatives are all around us. For example, our University Centre, which is less than a year old, provides enhanced services to all students. The new Field House, a first rate athletic facility, is currently under construction and due to open next year. At Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook, we were able to add a major student annex and we will shortly start construction of new residences.

The Opportunity Fund also helped us to raise $15 million for new scholarships which will alleviate the debt load which many students and families are experiencing. More than 500 entrance scholarships were awarded this fall. This includes $2,000 undergraduate scholarships for any high school student from Newfoundland and Labrador who graduates with an academic average of 90 per cent or more. You should bear this in mind if you have brothers, sisters or friends who are considering Memorial University.

The Opportunity Fund also will help us enhance our long tradition of excellence in teaching. We have faculty members such as Prof. Shane O’Dea who is an outstanding professor in the Department of English. He is also a university orator and you will hear him later in this ceremony introducing the honorary graduate.

The university formally recognizes outstanding teaching through the President’s Awards for Distinguished Teaching. Some recent award winners, who probably taught you, are Dr. Jean Finney-Crawley (Biology), Prof. Karyn Butler (Geography), Dr. Rick Johnstone (Sociology), Dr. Phyllis Artiss (English), Dr. Martin Mulligan (Biochemistry), Dr. Christine Way (Nursing), Dr. Michael Collins (Biology), and Dr. Melvyn Lewis (Mathematics).

Memorial also has a fine tradition of excellence in research. For example, Dr. Jane Green in the Faculty of Medicine, who is conducting ground-breaking genetic research to combat diseases like cancer and diabetes, and Dr. Thakor Patel from Biology, whose work on indoor environmental quality, particularly in schools, is widely known.
Dr. Steve Tomblin and Dr. Christopher Dunn from Political Science and Dr. Wade Locke from Economics continue to give great insight into public policy issues which are of high importance to our province. Other examples of outstanding research achievements are provided by our most recent recipient of the President’s Award for Outstanding Research,Dr. Trevor Bell (Geography) and our University Research Professors: Dr. Maynard Clouter (Physics and Physical Oceanography) and Dr. Danny Summers (Mathematics and Statistics).

Some of you will not have met these fine teachers and researchers but I wanted to mention them to give you a sense of the great variety of our highly accomplished academic staff.

At the same time, I want to recognize our non-academic staff who make essential contributions to teaching and learning. Without their expertise and dedication, the university could not function. In fact, without them, you would not have been able to register or graduate from the university.

Upon graduation today, you will join approximately 60,000 other Memorial University alumni, many of who have become successful leaders in our province, elsewhere in Canada and around the world.

What unites us fundamentally at Memorial University are our values, which include our love for education and learning, our love for research and scholarship, and our commitment to do the very best for our university and for our community.

What is true for the university is also true for you, today’s graduates. Your success will largely depend on the same values. While at Memorial University, you have experienced and you have learned these values. They form an invisible and lasting bond between you and the university.

As you leave the university today, you can do so knowing that you are well prepared for future challenges and that we at the university will continue to support you. Let us know your needs and we will endeavor to fulfill them through graduate programs, continuing education programs and research support to name just a few ways.

The university intends to expand its leadership role in distance education, especially distance education involving telecommunications and the world wide web. This will enable you to access the university’s offerings in a cost-effective and timely manner no matter where you live. We will also enhance our alumni activities through the provision of more continuing education programs and special speakers participating in alumni branch events. As you leave the stage later on, you will meet Dr. Paul Wilson, the president of our Alumni Association and Lynda Parsons, the acting director of our Alumni Affairs and Development Office. Get to know them and let them know your interests. The alumni association can make a real difference to your future career and life.

I also encourage you to maintain informal connections with the university — go for a swim in the Aquarena, play a game of squash in the new Field House, have a meal in the Student Centre, attend a concert in the School of Music, use our fine libraries, revisit your faculty, school or department and share your experiences with us.

Bring your family and friends and think of Memorial University as part of your home.

I welcome you to our family of alumni. Congratulations once again and all the best for your future!

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