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(June 13, 2002, Gazette)

May 31, 2002, 3 p.m.
Address to Convocation
by Dr. James Igloliorte

Dr. James IgloliorteBy way of introducing myself to you in a visual manner, I want you to think of me as occupying the median space somewhere between Sister Elizabeth Davis and singer Ron Hynes, both of whom have been awarded honorary doctorates during this Spring Convocation. And to be more accurate, I would slide myself more in the direction of Mr. Hynes than Sister Davis.

I knew about one month ago that Sister Davis would be a recipient because that’s when we met for our first session as newly-appointed Commissioners with Chair Mr. Vic Young; and then I learned more recently that Dr. Ron Hynes would be similarly honored. He is, of course, no stranger to anyone here. Like many others, I too have joined in many drunken renditions of Sonny’s Dream since its composition in 1976, but fortunately, our efforts haven’t diminished its impact as a modern country and folk classic. Sonny’s Dream has that unmistakable quality of being an authentic modern classic, that is, it has the genius of belonging to all people from the moment it is released, yet it seems timeless in its origin. Like Lefty Frizzell’s classic The Long Black Veil released in 1959, any good artist can put their personal stamp on the song, and it never loses its appeal.

So what is my pedigree that MUN would place such an honour on me today? My first reaction to Dr. Meisen’s phone call was to say that it could not be based on scholarship, because in my case any notion that you may have that my qualifications include learned writings and treatises on the law are entirely absent. Rather, I will confess to you that I am a decidedly ordinary candidate, and any academic merit I have achieved has been compliments of many fine teachers and instructors, both in school and at university.

And I believe it is important for many of you to know that - that your ordinary efforts, like mine, are rewarded by extraordinary mentors. As students today, and as teachers tomorrow, your life experience should tell you that the middle lane of life if full of people who are deserving of your generosity simply because they reflect qualities of preparedness without the drive of genius.

I ended up in university because I had a teacher who insisted that by repeating a final high school year that I had passed but had not matriculated, as we said then, I would be able to accept the challenge of university.

When I came to Memorial, I needed the same encouragement and understanding from my instructors that I had received in high school. They did show the necessary patience and guidance for a student who showed up for classes, and was willing to do the work. I remember with great fondness the encouragement of Dr. Doug Eaton; the fatherliness of geomorphologist Dr. Breuckner who put chocolate bars at your examination desk; the humour of Dr. Otto Tucker that meant you couldn’t miss the next installment in his class; the patience of Dr. Harvey Weir in convincing me a fail mark in Physics 101 could be easily overturned in the next term.

So as teachers who will affect many young people throughout your career, don’t ignore the qualities of the mentors you have benefited from which gets you on this stage today.
And I am sure that like many of you, a second great benefit of MUN life comes in the form of a partner you have found during your years here. When I registered here as 680277 I didn’t know there’d be a 671— here to be a match for me, but I can happily say that some 30 years and 4 children later, MUN came through again. Our marriage, by the way, has proved what only a few select sociology researchers have disclosed to the public from these halls of learning, and that is the two people who agree that toilet paper must only be rolled off from the top of the roll can survive any challenge to the relationship!

The final point I want to make with all of you is one you already have experienced because you are graduating, and that is the study and appreciation of great literature. I urge you to build on the love of reading which has likely been the indicator for you which pointed to a university education. Great authors have the ability to use prose to reach across the ages and inspire all manner of people.

My inspiration to try and give a glimpse of my personality and beliefs to you, in the short time we have to get to know each other, comes from no other that the great English Puritan writer and poet John Milton. Of course, we know him best in the way that contestants in Jeopardy do, and that he is the seventeenth-century author of such epic poems as Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes. Well, I have to confess, as sometimes judges do, that I haven’t read either of these of Milton’s poems, but I am sure my vanity will not allow me to ignore them any longer, since I am now a Doctor of Laws.

Milton is described in The Norton Anthology of English Literature Volume 1, as having been a voracious reader - so much so that he read night and day when he could,. The authors say , “ It seems likely that Milton, in his time, read just about everything that was written in English, Latin, Greek and Italian.” Then they add, quite offhandedly, just to compare your reading habits with his that : “ Of course, he had the Bible by heart.”

This constant reading led to his blindness in his middle age, but he continued , with secretaries and amanuenses, to produce the great Christian reflective works described above .

And when he reflected on how his light was spent- that is, his becoming blind, like writers of prose through the ages, he also made statements of universal, as well as individual application:

When I Consider How My Light is Spent

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide,
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
Therewith to serve my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”
I fondly ask; but Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”