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(November 1, 2001, Gazette)

Friday, Oct. 19, 10 a.m.
Report to convocation
Dr. Axel Meisen,
president and vice-chancellor

Dr. Axel MeisenDr. Axel Meisen

Congratulations graduands, and welcome to our family of Memorial University alumni. Your achievements, which we are celebrating today, have demanded much of you and your families. On behalf of all the members of the university community, I congratulate you and I thank you for your support. In the next few minutes, I would like to share with you my thoughts on four important subjects: Your preparedness to tackle the future; basic approaches to building your career; Memorial University’s role in helping you in the years ahead; and important developments at Memorial University.

You, our graduands, are now ready to enter a new phase of your lives. However, unlike many of your predecessors, your future is more uncertain and unpredictable. The tragedies that befell the United States last month are reverberating throughout the world and are transforming the world in many ways.

While nobody can predict with precision the challenges of the future, you can be certain that your Memorial University education has prepared you well for the challenges ahead, whatever they might be. You now have the competencies and values to master these challenges.

The competencies and values of Memorial University, and indeed of our entire province, were on full display in the days following Sept. 11, 2001. On that day, as the skies over North America were closed to air traffic, there descended on this province some 13,000 unexpected passengers and aircrews. Our university hosted about 500 of these visitors.

The manner in which the entire university community, including our students, responded to this crisis was remarkable. Late in the evening of Sept. 11, when it became obvious that Memorial University would be one of the hosting sites, a call went out to our student residences for volunteer assistance. The response was overwhelming.

(L-R) Sandra Kelly, provincial minister of Youth Services and Post-Secondary Education; Chancellor John Crosbie; Dr. Peter Gardner, honorary doctor of letters; President Axel Meisen; and Georgina Hedges, Board of Regents.
Photo by Chris Hammond

(L-R) Sandra Kelly, provincial minister of Youth Services and Post-Secondary Education; Chancellor John Crosbie; Dr. Peter Gardner, honorary doctor of letters; President Axel Meisen; and Georgina Hedges, Board of Regents.

Students streamed into the emergency dormitories, which we were setting up in the Thomson Centre. Within just a few hours, students worked alongside staff to make a disused building into functional living quarters. NewTel set up over a dozen free telephones.

When the first visitors arrived at the university in the early morning hours of Sept. 12, they found well organized facilities and welcoming students and staff.

Over the next several days, students, faculty and staff — most of them volunteers — worked tirelessly to provide our guests with an oasis of peace in a time of turmoil. In fact, we had far more volunteers than we had tasks. Our people provided guidance, translation services, impromptu concerts, lectures and — very importantly — friendship. Local businesses, such as Tim Horton’s, supplied countless donuts. The staff of our catering company, Chartwells, prepared thousands of extra nutritious meals. Our efforts were so successful that one of the passengers described Memorial University as a “five-star refugee camp.”

Our efforts were a powerful tonic for the passengers. But our efforts were also a powerful tonic for our community because they enabled us to counter-balance the great tragedy with something good and positive.

I have received letters from all over the world in which the passengers and their families expressed astonishment at our efforts and welcome. They are all echoing the same sentiment: Memorial University and our province are very special places, with very special people.

I wanted to share with you these insights regarding the Sept. 11 tragedy because they demonstrate the extraordinary abilities of our community. They give us confidence that we can deal with an uncertain future.

Career building
For most of our graduands, the next step in your life will be to secure employment – to get a job and to build a career.

When you are looking for a job, do not just look for advertisements in traditional places. Think about what you can do for a prospective employer. Think about providing something new to your community. Think about using your new skills and your mind in unique ways. Think also about becoming self-employed. Out of all this reckoning will emerge new opportunities and new career paths.

Of course, you also understand that your education does not end today. In developing your life, you will need help. You need your family and friends to continue to provide you with emotional and moral support, but Memorial University is also here to help you.

For example, Memorial’s School of Continuing Education provides life-long learning opportunities for our graduates and for others. A case in point is the post-baccalaureate IT program offered through the school since 1997. The program presently has 270 full-time and 67 part-time students, 85 per cent of who are Memorial University graduates. The program provides a mixture of advanced academic study and practical work terms.

This mix is very effective in putting academic studies in context and in reducing student debt. For these reasons, we are looking at a major expansion of our experiential learning and co-op programs in many areas of the university, including arts and science.

Another example of how Memorial University provides help beyond graduation is the Genesis Centre. The centre assists all sorts of clients, many of who are our former students, to commercialize their innovative ideas. Among its recent clients are: Griffiths Guitars International, a producer of acoustic guitars that are manufactured with patented technology developed right here in Newfoundland; and BioHex, a company that develops dental implants and prostheses.

Of course, our main way of helping you is by keeping you in touch with your professors, staff, faculties and schools.

Our Alumni Association, of which you are now all members, is a key link between you and the university. Our alumni have told us that they want the association to help them with their professional and personal development. They also want the association to keep them in touch with other alumni. We will meet these objectives regardless of whether you live in our province, elsewhere in Canada or abroad. For example, look for our new speaker series and the new alumnus of the year event scheduled for Nov. 7.

Let me now tell you about some important developments at the university.

Our province’s world-class oil and gas industry is growing and is largely responsible for the province’s positive economic outlook. Opportunities for highly-educated individuals are considerable. For these reasons, Memorial University is building a comprehensive set of educational and research programs focused on the petroleum industry. We have already hired five new professors and we recently submitted a major application to the Atlantic Innovation Fund. The application involves five universities in Atlantic Canada and requests approximately $40 million over five years. If successful, this initiative will make our province and all of Atlantic Canada into a world centre of expertise in oil and gas.

Opportunities are also abounding elsewhere, in particular, in culture. Newfoundland and Labrador is becoming recognized internationally for our painting and visual art, our music, our fiction and non-fiction writing, our filmmaking – to name just a few. Much of this success is due to our graduates from our campus here in St. John’s and Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook. The Newfoundland Symphony Youth Choir, which has many Memorial University students, was one of three finalists in the international Let the Peoples Sing choral competition in London, England. Their performances were astonishingly beautiful and I am sure that many choir members could build a successful career in performance.

The Sept. 11 passengers were amazed by our art and culture. As they return home, their observations will influence thousands of others. I believe that the opportunities in our cultural industries are indeed bright. I look for new initiatives in the arts both here in St. John’s as well as at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College and our Campus in Harlow, England.

Another area where opportunities abound is healthcare. North America’s and Europe’s aging populations together with medical advances and the recognition that good health is essential – make healthcare an area rich in career opportunities and a focus of the university’s attention.

In support of better health, the university will open in January the Field House, a new, state-of-the-art sports and recreation centre. I toured the Field House recently and I can tell you that it is an impressive facility. From the large open floor space (in which the basketball court takes up less than a third of the available space), to the 200-metre running track, to the walking track and fitness and recreation units, this will be a facility that will meet a wide range of sports and athletics needs.

However, the new complex will also serve other purposes. It will become the place for large student gatherings such as concerts, conferences, career fairs, Winter Carnival and Orientation events. Its uses are only limited by the imagination of the program planners and student leaders.

The Field House will serve all our students, including those with disabilities. In fact, we are adding an elevator in our current Physical Education Building, which is connected to the Field House. Students in wheelchairs will therefore have good access to the Field House from the university tunnels without going outside.

A lot of planning and hard work – much of it done by students and staff – has gone into these developments. This work will benefit Memorial University students, faculty and staff as well as members of our community since they will all be able to access the facilities at reasonable costs. On behalf of present and future generations, I thank all the planners for their efforts.

Strong and vibrant
The university is strong, vibrant, and growing. We enjoy the confidence of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and we have the firm support of our provincial government. The government recently provided the resources necessary to enable our Board of Regents to reduce student tuition fees. I thank them for their dedication and support of the university.

Finally, I would like to express appreciation and special congratulations to our honorary graduands. This morning, Dr. Ian Rusted, a man largely responsible for creating and developing our Faculty of Medicine, will be honoured. This afternoon, Peter Gardner, who is largely responsible for the growing success of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, will receive an honorary degree. Both men are extraordinarily accomplished and, I believe, they exemplify the essence of the advice, which I shared with you earlier: they work creatively and with great skill.

So, let me conclude by congratulating you, our graduands, once again and let me now also include Ian Rusted and Peter Gardner explicitly in my congratulations