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Oration honouring David Suzuki

Wednesday, May 27, 3 p.m.

Never before in the history of Newfoundland’s notorious weather have we experienced such an extraordinary May month. Never before have temperatures soared to 25 degrees celsius. Never before on a May 24th weekend have we sweltered semi-naked on Topsail Beach. Never before have polar bears been spotted dodging the SUVs in Anchor Point, and in Harbour Main, even the moose were jumping into the ponds to cool off. As we watched the magnolia, apple and lilac trees burst simultaneously into bloom, we fondly asked what has happened to the Springtime rain, drizzle and fog we know and love? Never before, Mr. Chancellor, have we been so foolish as to think a change in climate might be a good thing.

Fortunately, through the intelligent design of the Senate and the rational process of natural selection, Memorial has brought to our province Dr. David Suzuki, the man who can protect us from such foolish notions. Through a lifetime of teaching, research, writing and broadcasting, Dr. Suzuki has educated us against the seductive, but delusional and immoral belief that we can live isolated lives, disconnected from and indifferent to the scientific causes and effects of living on this earth.

We are also fortunate in all being here at this very moment in time and space, for the man waiting patiently before you is no virtual reality, beamed in by a TV satellite receiver, or imaged on YouTube. This is the real David Suzuki, the man who has used the tools of electronic technology for good not ill, to change the ways we understand the Nature of Things, the ways we learn about the innovative, Quirks and Quarks of science, and the ways “Yes, we can” make a cleaner, healthier world. And David doesn’t even own a cell phone.

It is fitting that in this bicentenary year of Charles Darwin’s birth, we honour our very own great Canadian scientist, who for over 40 years has inspired us all to learn about the evolving, and sometimes “fearful symmetry” between ourselves, a unique bipedal species, and our planet. Forty years is a very small footprint in our history, but David Suzuki’s footprint is huge in terms of influence and significance.

As a young child, displaced unjustly from his British Columbia home, David Suzuki could never have foreseen how his life was to evolve. The love of his parents and the tactile beauty of the wetlands near his new home in Ontario nourished his ambition and his spirit. Fascinated by all the creatures, “bright and beautiful, great and small,” but mostly small, he studied science, won scholarships to Amherst College, the University of Chicago, and returned to the University of British Columbia with his Doctorate in Zoology.

Mr. Chancellor, even as a young scholar, David Suzuki was the most popular professor on campus. Arts and science students lined up to take his courses, and he, apparently without a selfish gene in his body, helped them with their careers, played Beethoven in his labs while they counted fruit flies, and fed them delicious meals in Chinatown.

As well as running his genetics laboratory, David Suzuki capitalized on the potential of the new medium – television – to allow scientists to tell their own stories, in their own words, to enlist public support for science. The medium could, indeed, communicate important messages.

In memorable phrases, he led the way in showing Canadians how to “adapt, evolve, and survive” the increasingly rapid, social, institutional and environmental changes. He urged us to take responsibility for the ecosystem on which our lives depend. He taught us how to conserve precious, but finite resources, how to “reduce, reuse and recycle” the materials we consume. He showed us how to harness the natural, renewable energy of sun, wind and water, to make our homes, suburbs and cities greener.

By advocating discussion not denial, debate not deception, Dr. Suzuki, together with his friend, Al Gore, persuaded premiers, megastore presidents and industrial giants to listen to the concerns of ordinary people already committed to at least “one million acts of green.” To the cynics and the nay-sayers, David Suzuki says simply, but profoundly, “It doesn’t cost the earth to change,” but if we don’t evolve as a species, and reduce our carbon footprint, “It may cost us the earth.”

It is the measure of this great Canadian, that for all his celebrity and for all his eminent scientific work, he himself does not like to be labelled, classified or pigeon-holed. For all his plethora of awards, distinctions, documentaries and publications, he is most proud that his name has been given to a new species of one of the tiniest creatures on earth. A lowly fruit fly has been named Dixella suzukii.

Perhaps we should have named one of our capes or bays after him, as he has opened up new worlds of wisdom and understanding for all of us living on this island paradise and in this great country. Until then, I ask you, Mr. Chancellor, to confer on David Takayoshi Suzuki the highest honour this diverse, evolving, hybrid and infinitely renewable community can bestow – the degree of doctor of science, honoris causa.

Dr. Annette Staveley
Deputy public orator