(June 13, 2002, Gazette)
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
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
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: Ive
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 Lavinias solution to despair in the present
and hope in the future. She even teaches Mary how to count, upon Marys
request, to ensure, as Mary says, that the local merchant doesnt
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 Galileos and Copernicuss 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 didnt 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.