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(June 13, 2002, Gazette)

May 30, 2002, 10 a.m.
Address to Convocation by Dr. Elizabeth Davis:

Dr. Elizabeth DavisProvehito in altum – Launch forth into the deep. These words of Memorial University’s motto have been woven through my life and through the lives of my family and my religious community. My mother, my aunts, my brothers and sisters, my cousins, my religious sisters – we have all called this our University. We have graduated from here in nursing, education, medicine, physical education and engineering. I have been privileged to teach here and to lead an organization proud to include as partner Memorial’s Faculties of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Social Work and Engineering. Memorial has given an honorary Doctor of Laws to one of my religious community, a woman who taught both my mother and me, Sister Mary Teresina Bruce; you have continued the legacy of the life and spirit of my recently deceased sister with the Mag Davis Memorial Scholarship.

Now today, you honour me. In honouring me, however, you are really honouring so many who have called me to service and to leadership – my father and mother and our family, the residents of my home in Fox Harbour, the Sisters of Mercy, the students and teachers of Belanger Memorial High School in Upper Ferry, Holy Heart of Mary High School in St. John’s, St. Edward’s High School on Bell Island and Bishop O’Neill Collegiate in Brigus; the staff members, physicians, managers and volunteers at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital and at the Health Care Corporation of St. John’s; the professors and students among whom I have learned at Memorial, at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and at the University of Toronto. Their love, their support and their never allowing me to accept the status quo have challenged me to constantly find the new ways to make this world a better place. Any good you have seen in me has been shaped by their energy, their wisdom and their caring.

All of us who graduate today are called to launch forth into the deep. From this moment, each one of you will be proud to write the letters B.Sc. or MD after your name. These letters do not so much tell you where you have come from as they tell others where you are going. So many think the letters look back to the University’s affirmation of your learning. In fact, the letters are really looking forward – they are a statement which you are making about every day of your future. By writing these letters after your name, you are making three commitments: first, you promise that you will never stop learning, then you promise that you will leave your world a better place than you found it with relationships more healthy because you have worked to make them so and, finally, you promise that you will open yourself to be held accountable for this privileged learning that is yours.
In being true to the first promise, we continue learning by reflecting on our life and our work, by listening to others, by reading and studying, by seeking new directions and by never being satisfied that we know enough. In our complex world of the twenty-first century, we can readily adapt the words of Adrienne Rich when she writes in her Twenty-One Love Poems:

The rules break like a thermometer,
quicksilver spills across charted systems,
we’re out in a country that has no language,
no laws, we’re chasing the raven and the wren
through gorges unexplored since dawn
whatever we do together is pure invention
the maps they gave us were out of date
by years ...

We know that we can never expect to draw the new maps properly unless we keep exploring, investigating and learning.

The second promise those letters proclaim to the world is our commitment to leave this world a better place than we found it. Each one of you who graduates today does so as scientist or physician, as one who understands the power of reason in transforming this world. You now have the ability and the knowledge to bring to life the power, the potential, the beauty and the promise of our rich but broken world. How do you image yourself doing this? Do you see yourself as a piece of glass, a prism? A prism is not the source of light nor is it the rainbow. But without the prism there can be no rainbow. Or do you image yourself as an inukshuk? In the northern parts of Canada, many see piles of rock on the barren landscape; but others see inuksuit, stones deliberately shaped by one group of persons to send a message to the ones coming behind them. Each inukshuk tells its own story, perhaps pointing to a good source of fishing or hunting, perhaps indicating a cache of food, perhaps showing the path to the next inukshuk, perhaps indicating the burial ground of a revered elder. Whatever the message, one community is sharing the fruits of its learning, sharing its wisdom with another community.

Keeping this second promise means using our learning to strengthen all our relationships: our relationships with each other, with our God and with our cosmos. In The Dinner Party, Judy Chicago makes the commitment with these words:


We pledge to walk together
And be women and men determined
to bring about a new time.
And then all that has divided us will merge.
And then compassion will be wedded to power.
And then softness will come to a world
that is harsh and unkind.
And then both men and women will be gentle.
And then both women and men will be strong.....
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the earth.
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.


Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a scientist like you, places our second promise in the context of scientific discovery:

Some day after we have mastered
the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity,
we will harness for God the energies of Love.
And then, for the second time in the history of the world,
humankind will have discovered Fire.

The third promise, to be open to accountability, is necessary if we are to remain faithful to the first two promises. With learning comes power and the ever-present temptation to use such power for our own purposes, to abuse power. Agreeing that we will be held accountable, indeed ensuring that we will be held accountable by our profession, by our workplace, by our friends and by our community is really the only means we, as professionals, have of knowing that we will remain just stewards of the privileged status we have received here today. Many of us fear accountability because we do not want to be seen as vulnerable. Our comfort in our vulnerability, however, is twofold. We know that to be creative is to be vulnerable – the inukshuk cannot firmly stand to send its message unless it is made with broken stones, and the prism cannot refract light to create a rainbow unless its surface is broken. Every religious tradition reminds us that we walk together and we work together in the midst of a greater reality across time and space. In the Book of Joel in the Hebrew Bible and in the Acts of the Apostles in the Christian New Testament, we hear our God say to us:


I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even on my slaves, both men and women,
In these days I will pour out my Spirit.

A prism through which rainbows are created, a pile of stones through which wisdom is shared – are these far too simple images for scientists and physicians who have discovered the joys and the power of reason? I think not. For I believe that we, who graduate today, will not be able to keep our three promises until we have learned that the complexity of our world can only be understood by the joining of reason and imagination, until we have learned that the brokenness of our world can only be made whole by those who find the ways to meld science and compassion. In the words of the poet/philosopher, Kahlil Gibran:


Your reason and your passion
are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.
If either your sails or your rudder be broken,
you can but toss and drift,
or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.
For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining;
and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.
Therefore, let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion,
that it may sing.
And let it direct your passion with reason,
That your passion may live through its own daily resurrection,
and, like the phoenix, rise above its own ashes.

Yes, this is truly what it means to launch forth into the deep!

Scientists and physicians, every time you write those letters after your name, remember that on May 30, 2002, you said yes to constantly seeking new meaning in our world; on this day, you said yes to committing yourself to give new hope to our world; on this day, you said yes to accepting responsibility for shaping a world of compassion and justice. Memorial University has strengthened within each one of us our personal gifts, has called us to launch forth into the deep, and has given us the confidence to say our Yes. It remains now to each one of us to believe what we have heard and to walk confidently with others into the terrifying, wonderful deep that is our world.

My gift today to each one of you comes from my Irish and religious heritage through the words of this Gaelic blessing:

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the gentle night to you.
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.
Deep peace of the God of peace to you.