Address to convocation by Dr. Donald Best
I feel greatly honoured to be offered this degree and I am proud to accept it. Thank you to those who put forward my name and thank you to the university for bestowing this honour.
I never expected to be in this position, and I am more comfortable on the deck of a 55-foot longliner, 100 mile offshore in a north-east gale. However, when I look around at the mix of colors behind me, it reminds me of a sunrise just before a good northeaster.
My first contact with Memorial was in the 1950s, I believe. It was during one of the early fundraisers. I went around the town of Fogo and collected cash and pledges for the grand total of $180. In the early days of the university it grew with that kind of support – a few dollars at a time as people could afford it.
I know that that some of the graduates must be saying to themselves, I spent several thousand dollars to get a degree; he got one for $180.
Later, I became involved with the Marine Institute which was than the Fisheries College – both as a student and a travelling instructor winter time. Years later, I was fortunate to work with Dr. Joe Wroblewski in his pioneering work on cod in Trinity Bay.
In the 1960s when the traditional fishery was collapsing and communities were resettling, Fogo Island was in crisis. Our school system was failing , our social and economic structures were out dated. We had to change or move. As a people we decided to stay and Memorial University's Extension Service helped us in that decision, and with the National Film Board helped us define what we had to do to ensure our future. Research and involvement by people like anthropologist Cato Wadell was part of the mix. This was a time of intense and passionate involvement by many on the Island and by Memorial. The construction of the centrally integrated school and the formation of the co-op became the foundation on which we built.
I must give credit here to an ex-logger from British Columbia turned clergyman, Rev. Jesperson, for much of the leadership in getting people behind the new school concept. He persuaded people like my mother to walk miles raising money as a show of support for this new idea.
The co-op which became our economic base was the result of the work and support of many. It was a struggle in competition with the established order. The skeptics were many. The support of people like Richard Cashin and Aiden Maloney was of great help. We succeeded although at times we skirted bankruptcy. With good mangers like Hughie St. Croix who identified important new opportunities at crucial points in our development, we succeeded. The events of the 2010 fishing season validated the worth of the co-op. It is now under renewed attack.
The Extension Service was a part of our development and sometimes involved in ways which probably stretched the university's policy and mandate. This is a story yet to be fully told. This may be area for a graduate student or students to dig into more fully.
During this period the university through the Extension Service provided a valuable and needed service to not only our community but to many others around the province. It was a very visible presence in many areas of our life at the local level and one which affected our daily lives, our bread and butter issues. It covered economic, social and cultural issues.
The university has greatly influenced this province and has contributed much to what it has become. However, it seems to me that the close and passionate link with our communities of that earlier era is no longer there.
To the graduates, may I do a little preaching? You have been given a great opportunity, and as you develop your own professional lives give some time to involvement in your community. Do not "put it off" to one of those days, to "when I got time." For many that time never seems to come. Communities need you bright young people now when you are young and energetic. You will find volunteer work rewarding. Get involved.
Old fellows like me need to be replaced.
I shall finish with a verse from a poem "The Trawl" by Father Ed. Brophy which summarizes where I have been and where I am now.
"Well! I got my wish, and more besides
But I must lay it down
I'll never throw another fish
Into the middle pound."