Address to convocation by Dr. David Morgan
Growing up in St. John's in the thirties and forties of the last century, my horizons were bounded by the Southside Hills, the White Hills beyond Quidi Vidi, and Nagels Hill here beside us. The rest of the world was far away, somewhere beyond the fogbank I could see lurking on the horizon through the Narrows.
When I became a student at Memorial College, 65 years ago, I found a whole new world had opened up for me here. School had been dreary, but now I was in an Aladdin's cave. The lecture rooms, the library and laboratories of the college were full of the most wonderful treasures for me. It was all so exciting. Like Wordsworth, I felt
'Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!
It was not the buildings themselves, for as a boy I had gone there on Saturdays to art classes, and had taken comforts to injured sailors when the Gymnasium was a merchant seamen's hospital during the war. The treasures were all the new ideas and ways of thinking, the knowledge and enthusiasm of our teachers, the books, the music, the art, the ferment of ideas. We were a lucky generation, for we had the calming and mature effect of ex-service men and women among us. They had seen the problems of the real world and had survived. People like Hudson Davis, my lab partner, they admired the way we youngsters quickly absorbed ideas, while we admired their maturity and common sense.
Nor was it all study, we had our dances, socials, outings and debates. Some of us, like my friend Bill Abraham and I, propped up the basins in the men's washroom for hours, putting right all the ills of our country and the world. After all, were we not the new intelligent elite? And we knew where the politicians had gone wrong.
One place where they had not gone wrong was in giving us our college. As Senator Bill Rompkey said at last year's reunion, "They created an experience the very opposite of war". I have always been inordinately proud that our founding fathers created a place of higher learning as our War Memorial. Many years passed before I visited the hallowed ground of the Newfoundland Memorial at Beaumont Hamel, but that experience only intensified the pride I felt in this place.
Living away from Newfoundland, it was a great honour for me to be one of the founding trustees of Memorial's Harlow campus, and to serve there for many years. It was great to see in the faces of so many young students there the same light of discovery and widening horizons that I had felt those many years before.
I hope that you young people graduating today have found some of those jewels and golden ideas in your much bigger and deeper Aladdin's cave as I found in my time. Remember in spite of the difference of years, and the great advances in technology we now have, we still absorb ideas, commit them to memory, and think deductively in exactly the same way. You will be receiving degrees in many different subjects, but it is what you do with your learning inside your head that matters. You have been receiving degrees in a variety of subjects today. There is a tendency to think that a specialist degree restricts and limits the range of job you can do. That is not so. Some of you have received degrees in branches of science. Today many of the growing points of learning and research are in between the recognised or established disciplines, and that is particularly true of the sciences.
I had lost a favourite uncle and an aunt to tuberculosis. When I was young and idealistic, I wanted to use my chemistry to do something about tuberculosis. My doctoral research was on some of the strange chemicals found only in the tuberculosis bacterium. My first job after university was working for D'Arcy Hart, the man who had come to Newfoundland after the war to report on th extent of tuberculosis here. The lead chemist in the group was John Cornforth, who later won the Nobel prize for chemistry. We worked on the treatment of tuberculosis and leprosy, which surprisingly are related diseases. But while we were working, the use of the antibiotic streptomycin was transforming the treatment of tuberculosis. I moved to chemical industry, but grew to realise that the way industry was making chemicals to destroy insect pests did too much harm to other species and the environment. I concluded that to control pests effectively we must learn more about the way insects live and operate, and how plants protect themselves from insect predators. That became my main interest, as I moved into the new domaine of chemical ecology. Ecology is the study of the relation between living things and their environment, and chemical ecology is about how chemicals control or modify tho0se relationships. While we humans communicate largely by sound and sight, communication in insects is chiefly through chemicals. Since those early days chemical ecology has made many advances. And we can now be much more seectivein our power to control pests and protect crops. In the course of the work my students and I discovered a powerful natural insecticide in the seeds of an Indian tree, which I called azadirachtin. Among other things, it is currently being tested against introduced pests on shade trees in Ontario. We have also learned a great deal about the desert locust and substances used for communication by ants and bees.
But curiosity took me beyond my interest in insects and plants to applying my chemical techniques to other fields. An archaeologist brought me the problem of identifying the peculiar archaeological material called bog butter which is found buried in bogs in Ireland and Scotland, and opened up a new line in chemical archaeology. I even helped identify the material in the wreck of an ancient Basque whaler in Labrador.
If you ever feel your work is reaching a dead end, and you wonder if you should change direction, remember by doing so, you may be able to bring a fresh approach to a different task. But more important still is to use your training and knowledge in the wider world. There will be some big new problems to be solved for your children's generation. One of the greatest problems we now face is how to produce enough food for all the people of the world.
When you gave Mose Morgan his honorary degree, he said "the reputation of a university is like a delicate plant", it needs continual nourishment. He went on to say "Part of that nourishment is a continuous stream of bright students who through success in their chosen careers bring credit to the University". You will certainly remember your graduation day, but do not forget, it is now your turn.
I must thank the President, the Regents, the Senate and people of Memorial for inviting me here again, for giving me this great honour, which I shall bear with pride, and for being able to share with you today this important stage in your careers. Long may Memorial flourish!