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Address to convocation by Dr. George Faulkner

Wednesday, May 26, 3 p.m.

Good afternoon to all of you who are graduating at this convocation from Memorial University. I extend my congratulations and best wishes. I also extend best wishes and thanks on your behalf to all those persons who are here today supporting you. No doubt each of them is proud and happy for your success. No doubt, each of them, in his or her own way, has helped you get to where you are today. Never take that support for granted and make sure you personally thank your family and friends for all they have done to help you arrive here today.

I also want to thank my wife, Midge, my two sons, Bob and Pete, and all the other members of my own family who have supported me on my journey along the road of life, and who have helped make this day possible for me.
I extend thanks to the Senate of the university for conferring this degree on me. Little did I think when I started playing hockey on the Exploits River in Bishops Falls over 65 years ago that I would be here today to receive a doctor of laws degree. It is hard for me to express exactly how I feel to be honoured in this way by our university. I was one of seven children and was born in the middle of the Great Depression.

My father worked for the Newfoundland Railway and he worked very hard to support our family. Life was not easy. I finished high school in Bishops Falls and in those days there were very few opportunities to go to university. I got a job with the railway and was very glad to do so. Even though there was very little money around when we were growing up, and we all had many chores to do, we still had time to play hockey on the frozen Exploits River which flowed through Bishop’s Falls. We all loved to play hockey and fortunately myself along with all of my brothers and some of our friends were good at it!

From the frozen river and then on to artificial ice in Grand Falls, I got an opportunity to pursue my hockey career back in the early 1950s. While I did not make it to the NHL (there were six teams then, not 30 as there are today) I am quite happy with the way my life in hockey turned out.

I did play in a Major Professional League in Quebec for four years. I have played on or coached nine Herder Championship Teams in this province, more than any other person who has ever participated here. My time with Team Canada in 1966 and 1967 in the World Hockey Championships were memorable and enjoyable. I also took pride in being a mentor and coach to many other young men from this province who had productive and outstanding hockey careers of their own.

Wayne Gretzky said “a good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays to where the puck is going.”

I like to think that throughout my career I often went to where the puck was going. Paul Coffey, one of the greatest defencemen to ever play in the NHL, said: “Nobody is a natural, you work hard to get good and then keep working to get better. It’s hard to stay on top.”

Not only does that quotation apply to hockey, it is very applicable to life, in general, and I urge all of you as you leave here to go out into the world, to remember those important words. Hard work is one of the vital elements in a successful life and career. We are living in a Global Village, your competition will not only come from those in your class, your province or indeed your country. You will have to compete with young men and women from all over the world. This will be your challenge, and to meet that challenge, hard work and dedication will be required. As, George Halas, the great coach of the Chicago Bears said: “Nobody who gave his best ever regretted it.”

I also enjoin you to remember the immortal words of Yogi Berra: “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.” Today, the world is an unpredictable place. Like the ocean that surrounds the Island on which we live, life is constantly changing. At times the sea is calm, while at other times it will be rough and fraught with danger. Yet, even as you get moved around in strong currents and storms that come out of nowhere, there is much that remains in your control.

You must keep a firm hand on the helm. You must steer the right course, trust your instincts, react quickly to change and take advantage of opportunities. The ability to overcome challenge and adversity is what united the many generations of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who have preceded you. Their hard work has provided you with the opportunity to study and learn some of the skills you will need to continue in their tradition of perseverance and commitment to family and place. It is something you must never lose sight of as you chart your own course, be it here or elsewhere in the world.

Also, do not forget that you are a privileged group in our society and as such, I encourage you to become active volunteers in the community in which you will live. I love to play the guitar and sing. For many years, I have attended at seniors homes at various places in the province. Those experiences have enriched my own life and I think, in some small way, enriched the lives of those people for whom I have performed.

Statistics have shown that volunteers gain tremendous benefits from the act of giving, such as a reduction in stress, a decrease in physical pain and a “rush” that makes people literally feel good inside. Also, remember that social contacts which come from volunteer work allow people to develop better interpersonal and communication skills. In addition, these social contacts are a potential career investment and will also allow you to meet people who share your interests. At the same time, you are giving something back to your community and helping your fellow citizens. It is a “win-win” situation. You will not regret it.
As Winston Churchill said “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” There are no hard and fast rules for how we give back to our community. We are all unique, with a different combination of skills, education and interests. But, there are some guiding principles that have helped me respond to challenges and capitalize on opportunities over the years, and I would like to share them with you.

First and foremost follow your dreams. In other words, be fearless. Yes, you should listen to your head, and take steps to minimize risk. But please, listen to your heart. If there is something you really want to do, a dream that you long to fulfill, then by all means, go for it. If you fail, then as my grandson little George would say, “pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.”
Then there’s honesty and personal integrity. Honesty is to say what you mean, and integrity is to mean what you say. You have to work with others in a fair and ethical way. Treat people with dignity and you will earn their respect, their friendship, their loyalty, their cooperation. You are quickly going to learn, if you haven’t already, that you have to work with others to succeed.

As a player and as a coach in my career, I found that the best teams were made up of people who worked together for a common goal and put forth the effort needed to achieve that goal. I know the last thing you want to do today is answer any tough questions, but I will pose several for you to ponder: How will you handle the world of work? How will you adjust to the transition you now face as you graduate?

The good news is that there isn’t a definitive answer. I can tell you that my own success is attributable to hard work, common sense, fair dealings, respect for others and paying attention to detail. You may have informal relationships or you may work as part of a disciplined team, but the way you work with others will have a major impact on your own achievements.

Learn to delegate work to other people, empower them to get the job done and trust them to do it right. A positive attitude will be essential to achieving your goals, by seeing solutions where others see problems; opportunities where others see threats; and by embracing change, when those around you resent it.
You should also be confident in yourself and your abilities. Be assertive. You have to believe in yourself at all times, because if you don’t, why should others? Also, I encourage you to keep a healthy balance in your lives. While work and a career is extremely important, time spent at play and at recreational pursuits are vital to a happy, productive and well rounded life.

Finally, when I think about the many accomplishments of this university, the thousands of graduates over the years who have helped build our society, and the scores distinguished people who have received honorary degrees, I see an important part of the great history of our province. When I look at the bright young faces in this convocation hall, I see the future of our province. There is an energy and a light shining from all of you, shining brightly, as if to say that our future is in the very best of hands.

Having said all of this, I also want you to remember these immortal and wonderful words to help guide you as you live your lives: “when the one Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He will not ask if you’ve won or lost, but how you’ve played the game.”

Go forth. Take charge. Play the game of life. Make it happen. Have fun. Make a difference! I am proud to accept this degree and proud to be numbered with the other degree recipients whom I congratulate. Thank you.
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