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Address to convocation

Donald Samuel Walters

Wednesday, May 27, 10 a.m.

To say that I am honoured and very surprised to be standing at this podium today is putting it mildly. This university is one I love; however, it never occurred to me, in my wildest dreams, that I would ever address a Memorial Convocation. As the graduating class will discover, life’s journey is full of surprises – some good and others not so pleasant. I believe you should approach life in a positive way and never let unpleasant surprises, which may come your way, throw you off that positiveness about life.

Speaking of surprises, when I was a boy growing up in the small fishing town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, my baseball hero was the famous hitter, Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees. Well, I decided that I would play little league and was assigned to the Yankees. The other two teams were the Red Sox and Indians. Being short and stout, and with not much base path speed and finding out quickly that hitting home runs like mantle was not the answer, I found a way to get on base and surprised them with perfect bunts. Recently, at a school reunion, I was told by a former classmate that I must have been Lunenburg’s best bunter and, if I could have run, they never would have gotten me out. As you can see, my stature has not changed much.

Now that I have said that little piece of advice meant for later, let me get back to my original plan. A best friend of my wife and of mine, Elaine Zurowski – who is here today from Florida, has in her computer room a sign which caught my eye. It states simply, “In everything give thanks.” Well, let me start there and thank the greatest person in my life, my wife Eleanor. Eleanor has helped me make so much happen with her love, support, and understanding. To my daughters, Donette, her husband, Jon, and Danielle and her husband, Al, I say thank you. I have to also mention my two beautiful grand-daughters, Maria and Abby, or I will be in big trouble. To my dad, who passed away in 2002, and my mom, Eva, who unfortunately fell and broke her hip on April 4th, I want to say a big “thank you.” Mom, thanks to the great doctors of our city – glad that you could be here today and let’s keep that recovery going. To Eleanor’s dad, Wilfred, who is not able to be here today and her mom, Bernis, who passed away in 1984, I express my gratitude for all they’ve done. To my family and friends, particularly those who put my name forward for this honour, I say a heartfelt thanks. Thanks go to all the supportive people I have worked with at the Royal Bank, Oceanic Consulting, the St. John’s Port Authority, and New Island Resources. Thanks to visitors who have travelled to be here, particularly one of my Atlantic district bosses, Clay Coveyduck, who, along with two of his predecessors, Gord Feeney and Bob Sutherland, supported my efforts here in so many ways. Finally, I want to thank Memorial University and its faculty for the great work you do for the students and citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador, and indeed from all corners of this wondrous world.

In particular, I also want to recognize the students and coaches at MUN’s school of business for their many successes domestically and world wide, as well as the students and faculty at MUN’s medical school for their hard work and recent recognitions. Now that those very important thank-yous are done, I want to leave you with some of my thoughts. I could talk about the very serious breakdown of the U.S. banking system (a big disappointment to me), and the global economic meltdown caused by it, or any number of major economic or medical developments. Well, I decided that was not what I would do, but, rather take these few minutes to talk to you about the less talked about side of business, the things that really make it and, in my view, make life tick. Earlier this month, with Oceanic Consulting while at the Houston Offshore Technology Conference, I saw a rolling monitor displaying the core values of a large oil services firm – these included: teamwork, integrity, customer focus, respect, and innovation. Well, again, I think they are excellent values, however, I want to talk about special ones to me that I have found especially important.

The first thing I think essential to success in whatever you do is believe in yourself. Have confidence in whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability. I cannot help think of a very successful ad campaign by the company I worked for 38 years – the Royal Bank. They had many great campaigns but the one I liked best and which I believe is applicable here today was built around the “can do” theme. Relax, I am not going to sing!

Having that “can do” attitude is so important and essential in the fields of medicine and business. One of my favourite people is Sir Winston Churchill. He dealt with this concept in his usual witty way. He said, “You will never get to the end of the journey if you stop to shy a stone at every dog that barks” and “Difficulties mastered are opportunities won.”

Another organization that means much to me is Special Olympics, which was introduced to me by David Cuccia, whose parents, Lou and Carol, are here today. To me, special “O” illustrates the essence of having confidence in yourself. The Special Olympics motto says it all: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me brave in the attempt.” Lanny MacDonald, the notable former NHL hockey player, once said that Special Olympians taught him more about athletics and self-confidence than anyone else.

Secondly, I want to talk about risk taking and the need to take action. You know it – bunting your way on base! I suppose it is natural for me to talk about risk, as a retired Royal Banker, but taking measured risks with proper controls is essential to business, medicine and, indeed, life itself. Turning to my favourite Churchill again – he was a high-risk taker and, in one of his most famous speeches in June 1940 when things looked pretty desperate, he said the following: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the street, we shall fight in the hills”. It is said, as he paused to a great uproar that greeted his words, he muttered to a colleague next to him, “And we will fight them with the butt ends of broken beer bottles because that’s bloody well all we got.” We all know that he successfully took those risks and we all are thankful for it. Indeed, this university is a memorial to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

In addition to risk taking, this quote illustrates another key ingredient to business, medicine and life as well, and that is determination or perseverance – that “never-say- never” approach. Some argued you could never get cruise lines to see the North Atlantic as a market. Well, while at the Port as its chair, our staff, with much co-operation from Dennis O’Keefe and the city, convinced them that it was. It took a lot of work, effort and, yes, determination. But we did it! This quality, with good common sense, accomplishes much.

Recently, you all may have heard of the miraculous 50-1 win at the Kentucky Derby by “Mind that bird.” What a name for a horse! Some described the winner to be a “horse in a plain brown wrapper.” The daily racing forum said before the race about “Mind that bird” that “as good as the top few are in this race, some of the bottom feeders like this guy are really weak.” So a $9,500 horse bought by a Canadian and sold for $400,000 wins the race after driving 21 hours in a horse trailer from New Mexico by a trainer with a broken leg. That was real determination to succeed. And, yes, in victory, the Canadian was remembered and thanked as everyone celebrated the success. I can think of other great stories like my friends on the Jack Macduff team winning our province’s only brier, and the Brad Gushue team who won Canada’s first men’s Olympic title in men’s curling. That set the province in a jubilant mood and they were honored with honorary degrees from Memorial. Perhaps history will also record them as the first Olympic team to all become doctors afterward! These things show, if you dare to dream, prepare yourself, work hard and are determined, that success will usually follow.

While you must dare to dream, you also have to be prepared to sometimes fail. Never try to fail but prepare yourself to deal with it when you do. Just remember a song, “You’ll never walk alone,” sung so well by the Three Tenors. These words register with me: “When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high, at the end of the storm is a golden sky.” One of those singers, Pavarotti, a visionary, changed the world of classical music. He took huge risks, was determined and went through many challenges. I have every confidence that the graduating classes here today will accomplish greatness in their own ways. There is a saying “luck is important”, it is, but remember, as Oprah says, “Luck is where determination and knowledge meet.”
During a recent visit to Florida, I saw on a parking curb in the lot of a drugstore, “Live life to the fullest.” I encourage you to do that. Try to accomplish as many of your dreams as possible. Enjoy and savour every moment of it. Have fun doing it. Fulfilling dreams and seizing opportunities that come your way are so important. You never know where they may lead you. Do them with enthusiasm, kindness, and with integrity. If it feels right, do it! If not, take a pass. A good friend of mine, Tom O’Brien, owner of Tiger Financial News Network (TFNN) in Clearwater, Florida, has a great saying which I think is so relevant – “Whatever you think about, you bring about, whatever you focus on grows.”

Always celebrate your successes both big and small; small successes many times turn into big ones later on. That little bunt, which surprised them, is converted to the winning run! While there are many stories I could tell you about celebrating successes one stands out here today and it may also revolve back to may previous comments about determination. Firstly, always listen to and take advice, if you think it useful, from experienced people.

Probably about 12 years ago, I went to Labrador salmon fishing on the Eagle River as a guest of my good friend and client Dr. Melvin Woodward. Also, there was another old friend of his, the late Jim Maher from Montreal. Jim, in his 80’s, was sitting on the rocks next to Mel when Mel went for a cup of tea available at a nearby camp fire. Mel offered me his new rod (good gear) and his spot as fishing was slow. I moved in on the opportunity with no real expectations and tried to cast with the new fishing rod when Jim said, “Young man, if you can cast another ten feet, you got a big fish” (that experienced eye). I heeded his advice and put every effort to get that extra ten feet and there it was. Kaboom! Well, Mel had not made it to the teapot and headed back to the action. He stayed with me halfway down the fishing pool as the fish took off. He coached me all the way – yelling at me not to lose the fish as I stumbled over the rocks. Finally, when I landed my first big salmon, he celebrated with me with a big high five. His joy was equal to mine.

Before wrapping up, I want to comment on a virtue I passionately believe in and that is community service. I feel that most success we achieve in life comes from our own hard work and effort, however, if there were no community, clients, or patients to serve, not much would happen.

I love two famous quotes: one you likely will guess is from Sir Winston Churchill, who said: “We make a living by what we do. We make a life by what we give.” and, President John F. Kennedy, who said to the American public:

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

For me, this involvement with the community has been so rewarding. It has brought me so many things which I may never have experienced, so many joys I may have missed, so many feelings of having helped others in significant ways for them, the feeling of satisfaction of seeing projects important to the community achieved, seeing Memorial grow into the great school it is today, watching our city and province grow and prosper, seeing and helping entrepreneurs grow and prosper whether from Operation On Line, which I had the privilege to chair many years ago, or the Genesis Centre, or others I have helped on a one-on-one basis.

While supporting your community, province, state, or country, wherever that may be, will require your time, enthusiasm, and commitment, you will find it very rewarding, in my opinion, and you will make many new friends. It has done that for me!

Let me now conclude. Be your own person, do what you think is the correct thing for you, leave no stones unturned, climb every mountain possible, live every dream to the fullest, execute on it, take action, make it happen. Live your life to the fullest, rebound from stumbles, learn from them.

Remember, if you take few risks, you get few rewards, but always fully measure those risks before taking them. Be kind, courteous, generous, thorough, enthusiastic, sincere, work hard, take care of yourself, your family and your community. Remember the words of my favourite singer, Sir Elton John, from the famous movie “The Lion King” -- “There’s more to be seen than can ever be seen, there’s more to be done than can ever be done."

Make sure that you try to see and do as much as possible. May your lives be filled with success! Go out there and achieve! I am confident you will! Remember Tina Turner’s song which is so appropriate to you: “You’re simply the best.”
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