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Oratory covered

Book of orations spans range

By David Sorensen

They can reach heights of soaring oratory befitting the kings and queens of industry and academe for whom they are prepared. But orations introducing Memorial’s honorary graduands are not without humour, from sly asides to near-slapstick.

With the university’s 100th regular convocation this spring, Public Orator Shane O’Dea compiled a collection of some of the best orations from the past half-century of Memorial graduation ceremonies, titled Orations: A Selection of Orations from Memorial’s Convocations.

Convocation is not just about students finally receiving their degrees. It is also includes awarding honorary degrees to distinguished individuals who have demonstrated an extraordinary contribution to society or exceptional intellectual or artistic achievement.

Just before the honorary graduands receive their degrees, an oration is read before convocation that, in part, sets out the grounds for their selection.
Prof. O’Dea said the compilation celebrates the work of the orators but also the lives and careers of the graduands of whom they speak.

“Essentially an oration presents to the convocation audience the reason why the candidate is worthy of a degree at Memorial’s convocation,” he said.

The book is also an homage to George Story, Memorial’s first public orator, appointed when the post was established in 1960. He held the position until his death in 1994. Dr. Story was a distinguished scholar best known as one of the authors of the Dictionary of Newfoundland English.

“These orations for their quality stand as a tribute to George Story and say much about the standard he set and which has been Memorial’s pride ever since. It is to his memory that this book is dedicated,” explains Prof. O’Dea in the book’s introduction.

While convocation began in 1950, when Memorial became a degree-granting institution, it was another decade before the first honorary degree was given. At the opening of the new campus in October 1961, George Story and his deputy, Bryan Reardon, presented 19 people for honorary degrees.

Since then, Memorial has had some 50 orators and they have delivered about 500 orations. There’s no rule book to writing an oration, said Prof. O’Dea.

“The guide is the person’s own life, but also you are always seeking as an orator the image around which to frame the oration, and if you catch that, you’ve got kind of a guiding light which pulls you through the piece.”

“If you are going to do research on this person, you are going to go to all kinds of arcane sources. As a scholar, you read her books, but you also do the standard Google search, too, and see if you can pick up other stuff on them. If it’s a local person, you go talk to local people. You find out any stories you can and sometime the stories are funny.”

However, occasionally the times and the person do not call for humour. Prof. O’Dea mentioned orations for holocaust survivor Moishe Kantorowitz, Grunia Movschovitch Ferman, a survivor of the Nazi occupation of Poland, and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for most of the last 20 years.

Orations contains 36 orations from 12 different orators and is available at the university bookstore and other locations around the province.