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(November 1, 2001, Gazette)

Friday, Oct. 19, 3 p.m.
Address to convocation by Dr. Peter Gardner


Dr. Peter Gardner Dr. Peter Gardner

First let me say what a surprise and great honour it was for me to receive a letter from President Meisen informing me that I had been chosen to receive an honorary doctor of letters at this convocation and what a privilege it is for me to be here with you today.

When Deirdre and I left Wales and arrived in Newfoundland on a cold, windswept November day, little did we believe that we would still be here 30 years later or indeed that I would be standing on this stage receiving an honorary doctorate from this great Canadian university.

I can still remember the day when I graduated from Trinity College, London, and I can still feel how many of you must be feeling today. Following six years of intensive study in London I was elated that I had finally finished my formal training successfully, but I was apprehensive as to what the future would hold. I was fully equipped as a violinist but uncertain as to how best to apply those skills and even more uncertain as to how to set about convincing other people, or potential employers, as to my usefulness. These mixed emotions of elation and apprehension are still clear in my mind.

As with most beginnings, luck had a lot to do with the final outcome. On leaving college I took whatever I could find in the way of work. Travelling, playing, teaching and the inevitable round of orchestral auditions, not always an encouraging activity. I must say that I had certain ideals with respect to what I thought the music profession and the professional orchestral scene in Britain was like. I quickly found out that my view of things was far from realistic – the environment of the British orchestra scene was far less pleasant in reality than it had seemed from my viewpoint as a student. I considered treading another path.

Then as luck would have it, out of the blue, along came Newfoundland. It was drawn to my attention that Newfoundland was looking for a concertmaster – a resident musician for the St. John’s Symphony Orchestra – a project supported by then Premier Joey Smallwood. I knew something of this province from geography and history lessons at school, but I knew little of its people or its politics.

Following a successful four-day interview in St. John’s, I returned in November with my wife, Deirdre, for what we thought was to be just a two-year stint. We certainly hadn’t envisaged staying here for so long. We came St. John’s as landed immigrants via Gander – no international airport in St. John’s in those days – and arrived just in time for Christmas in 1971, a most interesting time in Newfoundland politics. If my memory serves me well, Mr. Chancellor, I believe it was you, who in early 1972, during the interesting hurly-burly of politics of the time, questioned the appropriateness of the arbitrary support by Mr. Smallwood of the position of concertmaster. I certainly hope that 30 years later you feel that the creation of that position has paid off.

Since coming here I have been afforded the privilege of serving the arts in this province and, in the process, the opportunity of visiting most of the island of Newfoundland and a great deal of Labrador. It is now interesting to reflect that at a time when the leading growth sector in Canada is culture and tourism, our province, with its extraordinary wealth of artistic activity and unparalleled rugged beauty is well placed to make its mark in the years ahead.

All I have said will give you some background to what I have to say now to all the graduates here today.

In talking directly to the graduating class I can only reflect on my own experiences and my observations of the feelings of the many students who have crossed my path in the past 30 years.

I have always felt that the two most difficult and stressful times in a young person’s life seem to occur at two of the most exciting moments – once as you complete high school and again as you come to the end of your undergraduate studies. It is at these times of great personal accomplishment and elation that important decisions must be made as to your future course of action.

Today, each of you is armed with a new degree. Some of you will know clearly what you wish to do next, but I am sure that for many of you the next step is far from clear or certain and perhaps even a dilemma.

I would suggest to you all that this is one moment in your life when you must think entirely of yourself – to be a little selfish. We have all been taught to think of others, to bear their thoughts and wishes in mind, however, I strongly believe that this is the time when you must ask yourself “What do I really want to do? What do I really believe? What do I really, deep down, wish for the future? What have I always dreamed of doing?”

It is at this time that I recommend that you must seek out your own true feelings – to not consider the many pressures that might be placed upon you by your family, teachers, friends, all of whom have great aspirations for you. They see your strengths and qualities and make suggestions, but at this time you must consider the dictum “To thine own self be true.”

By way of example I return to the time when, In 1971, at the very moment when Newfoundland reared its head, I was in the midst of a teacher training program, a program that for me seemed irrelevant and misguided. In October of that year my attention was drawn to the Newfoundland opportunity. I took a risk, applied for the job, skipped classes and came here for a week of interviews. I was offered a position to start in January…. that would mean leaving college. The orchestra said it needed me immediately and that it could not wait until I had completed my training.

My father advised me to stay for six more months to complete my studies, but given my feelings regarding the course I was taking, Deirdre and I decided to leave Wales and opt for an adventure which was more in tune with my feelings about music making, teaching and playing. We made our own decision. And here we still are, 30 years later. I still haven’t completed that course and we have never regretted that decision.

I feel strongly that you must travel and that you should seek new opportunities wherever they might be. I have always strongly encouraged this in my students and my own children. I firmly believe that at a young age, with so many years ahead, you can afford, for a while, to take small risks, try new directions yet always return if things do not work out and even start again. I came to Newfoundland for only two years, but as you can see those two years became a further two years and eventually 30. For me what in 1971 was a great adventure, one might say a calling, ultimately worked out to become a wonderful rich and varied career.

These days we hear and read a lot about the investment that is made in training the next generation and that this investment is best and should be realized in our own province. I cannot subscribe to this premise. I firmly believe that the duty of my generation is to educate the next generation to the very best of their abilities, regardless of the cost. It is then our duty to encourage you to go wherever it might be in the world you can best apply this wonderful education, and to go with all our blessings and good wishes. You are not ours to keep only ours to prepare, as best we can, for a good and worthwhile life. Wherever it might be, somebody, perhaps another community, will some day benefit. Each of you must go wherever you feel you can prosper, be happy, be appreciated and contribute to society in the best possible way – whether that’s here or away.

You must have patience. Things do not always work out immediately. I have always admired the great English landscape gardener, Lancelot “Capability” Brown. Capability Brown was responsible for laying out the gardens of many of the great estates during the latter part of the 18th century. These estates were often thousands of acres in area. Capability planted trees so that in his mind’s eye they would grow to their natural shape at full maturity. He never saw the fruits of his labours, neither did his children. The results of his art finally came to full maturity and glory just a few years ago for our generation to see.

To conclude, I must note that none of us can succeed alone. I urge you to form partnerships, look for like-minded people to share in your strengths and in turn draw strength from them. We gain strength from the strength of others and by sharing with them both our successes and failures. That has clearly been the case for me here.

The success of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, Newfoundland Symphony Youth Orchestras and other ventures in which I have been involved is the success of many. Without the support, encouragement and skills of many people I could not have accomplished a fraction of the things that we have accomplished together.

Volunteers have played a great part in our life here in Newfoundland. When we first arrived the orchestra was an entirely volunteer organization and, to a great extent, it still is today. This is one of its greatest strengths. In recent times the interaction between the amateur and the professional has made the NSO what it is today, particularly in terms of its unique spirit.

To my many friends and colleagues who are here today I give you my heartfelt thanks for all the ways in which you have contributed to the great honour which has been given to me.

To all the graduates today, I wish you all the best as you embark on your chosen path. To the families and friends who have gathered here to share in this important ceremony, I thank you all on behalf of all of us. I thank you for all the support, wise counsel and patience you have bestowed upon us, without you we would not be here today.

Mr. Chancellor, Mr. President, thank you for the tremendous honour you have shown me today. I will wear this honour with pride and continue, along with all the graduates here to live up to Memorial’s motto, provehito in altum – Launch Forth into the Deep or as others say Reach for the Heights.