(June 13, 2002, Gazette)
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
thats 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
Sonnys Dream since its composition in 1976, but fortunately,
our efforts havent diminished its impact as a modern country and
folk classic. Sonnys 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 Frizzells 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. Meisens 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 couldnt 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,
dont 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 didnt know thered 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 havent read either of these of Miltons 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:
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 mans 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 oer land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.