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(June 13, 2002, Gazette)

May 30, 2002, 3 p.m.
Address to Convocation by Dr. Marion Pardy:

Dr. Marion PardyIt is indeed an honour to be selected as one to be recognized in this way within my home province. I do receive this honorary degree in the spirit in which it is given. This is the land that has nurtured and challenged me from birth. In this land, to which many refer to as “isolated,” my horizons were broadened to explore questions and answers which led to further questions concerning matters of faith and life. In receiving this degree of honorary doctor of laws I bow with gratitude before those agencies that have supported and challenged me on my chosen path: family, church, friends, university. Growing up in Gander amidst water, railways tracks and an airport, the lure of the beyond beckoned. My appreciation is deep.

We speak of earned degrees and honorary degrees and we distinguish between both. Earned degrees evoke images of money (no doubt, loans, grants and being in debt). Earned degrees point to textbooks, courses, lectures and “all nighters” in order to meet essay deadlines or cram for exams.

Honorary degrees speak of a gift granted to one by the action of decision-makers. As one who knows the struggles of finances, time, energy and stress around earned degrees, and as one who views the validity of claiming that honorary degrees are also earned, I suggest that there might be greater truth in claiming that all degrees are honorary. Without denying the “sweat and tears” we endured for our achievements, all of us here today being awarded degrees are receiving honorary degrees to some extent. We are here primarily because of the blessings bestowed upon us by the province or country we call home, the opportunities that have come our way and the privileges of protesting systems even as we are beneficiaries of them.
I share the following scenarios to illustrate my point:

Excerpt from a news item:
Pictures of Afghanistan girls returning to school after Taliban rule with a flashback to photos of the “secret” or “underground” schools of women, boys and girls so desperate for education that they are willing to risk beatings, torture and death in order to learn so that their lives and life in their country might be less destitute.

Excerpt from Random Passage by Bernice Morgan

It is the 1800's in Newfoundland. There is Mary Bundle as a single mother with child. She explodes with righteous indignation over being grouped with the Andrews family where there is a male head of the house for her meagre share of the profits from the fishery. Hear her shout: “I’ve worked as `ard as any man `ere and I wants me fair share”. And in Random Passage there is Lavinia who is mostly quiet and contemplative. Through education she makes sense of this barren, rugged lonely land where injustice reigns supreme. She spends much time alone overlooking the mighty ocean and writing in her journal. Through her quiet assertiveness she is given a schoolhouse and she teaches the children reading, writing and arithmetic. Education is Lavinia’s solution to despair in the present and hope in the future. She even teaches Mary how to count, upon Mary’s request, to ensure, as Mary says, that the local merchant doesn’t cheat her.

Excerpt from my family history:

When my mother died in 1991, someone said of her that she was born fifty years too soon. She had grade four education because she, together with many other young women of her age, had to leave home to go “in service” to help alleviate the poverty in the family. Indeed, many boys and girls were forced to leave school to work inside and outside the home because of poverty or family illness. My mother had an inquiring, keen mind and thrilled when she could read the newspaper or a magazine.

I use these stories to illustrate my understanding that all degrees are honorary. And, thus, it is with humble pride and thanksgiving that I accept the honorary degree so generously bestowed upon me today.

With privilege and honour come responsibility. Each one of you graduating today represents a discipline conveying a wealth of knowledge. You will find, I hope, opportunities to use that knowledge in ways that are life-giving for you. Each discipline, including theology, carries with it ethical responsibilities as well. The mandate of science and religion is to contribute to the well being of all people everywhere and to the well being of our planet and cosmos. The unfortunate conflict of the past between science and religion is over. The Galileo’s and Copernicus’s of our world thankfully are no longer ostracized by the church. We recognize scientific discovery, research and invention and the curiosity and restlessness for the “more” in life. The “more” in life commands our attention until there are cures for all diseases, until we realize how inter-connected we are with our past and our future. We have travelled far from the days of Copernicus and Galileo. In 1519 Magellan set out on a trip around the world that took three years and seventeen days to complete. In 1980 astronauts were circling the earth in 90 minutes. We have journeyed a long way from the first astronauts into space and the comment of one: “I didn’t see God there.” Few people in religion or science hold this view of God any more. The Hubble Revolution brings us photos portraying the vastness of our neighbourhood, the challenges, the beauty, the endless horizons of the cosmos and the finiteness of our existence. All of us see ourselves as a tiny speck of cosmic dust and many of us exclaim with the Psalmist of old: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Psalm 8: 3,4).

Science helps us realize our responsibility to future generations. The ethics of religion challenge us to use that knowledge, that quest for knowledge, wisely for the benefit of all people. There are values our country and our province uphold - values that claim that the privileges and opportunities one group shares must be available for all. This fine university was built on the value of accessibility of education for all regardless of social or economic status. In a similar way, we in Canada espouse the right for safe, affordable housing for all people, universal health care and social services for those less privileged. As a country since the days of former Primer Minister Lester B. Pearson we have viewed ourselves as peace-makers on peace-keeping missions, rather than as military fighters. We value non-violence as the path to lasting peace.

What we value for ourselves and our country must be extended to our world. Both science and ethics enable us to realize our inter-connectedness with our whole world. Now, more than ever, we look to you as our leaders and decision-makers to convey knowledge and to espouse values.

I vowed that I would not preach a sermon today. You will forgive me, I am sure, for quoting one of my favourite passages as a summary of my thoughts. It is from the prophet Micah of the Hebrew Scriptures.

God has shown us what is good. What does God require of us but to do justly, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.