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Address to convocation

Dr. Linda Inkpen

Thank you very much, Dr. Staveley, for your kind and gracious introduction. And thank you very, very much, Memorial University, for the honour you bestow on me this afternoon.

Esteemed Colleagues, Honourable Graduates, Ladies and Gentlemen, I stand before you and speak to you this afternoon with such enormous pride. Good fortune, some successes, vast and diverse experiences, some expertises and marvellous recognitions have followed me in the relatively few years we are afforded to tread this wonderful earth of ours. The Alumna of the Year Award granted to me by my university, Memorial, in 1988, was a sentinel event in my life. This afternoon is the penultimate milestone for me. I know Memorial; Memorial knows me. This makes the honours they have bestowed on me so very, very dear!

Currently I spend some hours each week working with Memorial’s Student Health Center. My husband and I have three sons who attended Memorial University. And these sons have many, many friends who attended Memorial. My husband works with Memorial University’s medical school. I have been offered considerable advice about speaking to convocation today. And many such advisors sit in the Arts and Culture Center this afternoon as graduates, patients, colleagues, friends, and family. The overwhelming advice I received was to say very little; however, I am here and you are there, and I shall take my few moments of fame and attention.

The world you and I live in today is vastly different from the world in 1969 when I first graduated from Memorial. But this is an afternoon not for reminiscing and history – it is an afternoon to dream, celebrate, and plan for new experiences, challenges and opportunities. So where to from here - for you, in your future endeavours, and for me in the next few minutes?

None of what I share with you now is original. A few operating principles have served me well in my life, in vastly different work and personal circumstances. These principles have been taught to me, and reinforced to me, by colleagues, family, and friends in education, medicine, business and at home – and by colleagues and friends in a variety of roles and workplace settings. Your “take-home” message for this afternoon is only three-fold.

Principle number 1: Maintain perspective.
I proudly admit to the occasional obsessive personality trait. My oftentimes slavish adherence to detail and process needs constant oversight and review. A psychiatry professor once tried to console owners of such traits by calling us “pillars of society” – in other words, dependable, hard-working but uninteresting, annoyingly process-oriented, non-confrontational, boring sods! Some years ago, I worked with a very wise and talented lady who knew the essence of my personality quirks. While pride ruled my deportment when I was harried and stressed, she understood my private struggles. She would lean across my desk, her southern shore accent swelling with an honest, forthright and lyrical assessment and say “Now, Dr. Inkpen, may the good Lord grant you no greater burden than this one!” What she taught me was to maintain perspective. The absorbing issue of the hour, and of the day, is not usually of monumental significance in the overall scheme of life events.

Principle number 2: Do not be afraid to be wrong.
The inaction and paralysis of thought and deed which come from a fear of being wrong is destructive, counter-creative and simply wasteful. Along with your positive experiences and laudable choices, I guarantee you there will be errors, less than stellar judgment calls and simple, mind-numbing blunders. An older friend would regularly call me out when I would dally and second and third guess my decisions and actions. Having used my best judgment and thought through my decision with reasonable diligence and the perspective of appropriate time, the very worst that could happen, he reminded me, is that I could be wrong. The mistake ledger only records that there be more rights than wrongs.

Principle number 3: Work on avoiding making the same mistake twice.
Learn from every person and every situation. Mistakes are the best learning tools. Our youngest son is a competitive sailor. He is currently competing with the best sailors in his sailing class in the world – Olympians and world champions. He is sailing in Europe now and learning quickly that competition is fierce. On a “down” day, an Austrian coach came by to speak with the Newfoundland/Canadian sailors. They had had some sailing successes – and some disappointments. This world-renowned coach lectured them on the comparative difficulty in learning from a competitive fleet when you are always in first place and cannot learn from observing competitors’ manoeuvres and mistakes. The back of the fleet can be the real learning, and character-building, position. Learn from your competitors, your colleagues and your family and friends. And try not to make their mistakes, and your mistakes, twice! Simple words and great life lessons.

There is a short paragraph on a wall-hanging in an office I occasionally frequent that I want to share with you. It is hung above the desk and stares down at me through my work day. It was written by the mathematician, architect and great thinker, Emerson. “Finish each day and be done with it. Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

With apologies to my learned colleagues, I have eschewed the lofty treatises of philosophy and soporific ideals in addressing convocation. The perambulations of my brain, still sharp, but with some age-appropriate lapses, still focus on the global impact of hydrocarbon emissions and resultant climate changes, invigorated and contemporary corporate governance ethics and guidelines, internal rates of return and earnings per share, omnipresent strategic planning and the eternal quest for the pinnacle of quality assurance and quality control in everything! I, too, can stress over university roles in society, the debate over research, education and appropriate operating and capital allocations to both. My political sense is sharp; my critical faculties in fine form. I can be as troubled and challenged as any of you over weighty debate on the ponderous musings of Senate and Regents. However, today, I stand before this graduating class to tell you that, while I am a proud Newfoundlander and Canadian, I am an extremely proud and grateful graduate of this great university, Memorial. The studies I undertook at Memorial University, the professors and teachers who taught me at Memorial and the friendships I formed as a student at Memorial have underpinned all aspects of my professional and personal endeavours through the years, as your lives, too, will be forever impacted and altered. Go forth and search out a multitude of opportunities and challenges. All experiences, the positive and not so constructive, hold lessons of immense value which will reveal themselves at appropriate times and in a variety of professional and personal circumstances. Enjoy, and build on, your well-earned successes. And please remember: try not to be afraid to be wrong; try not to make the same mistake twice; and try to keep all things in perspective.

Thank you and best wishes to you all.