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Dr. Peter MacKinnon Address to convocation

I want to express my gratitude to Memorial University for this honour and for this day.

Although I would have considered myself privileged to receive an honorary degree from this university in any circumstances, it is particularly welcome on the occasion of the installation of the 11th person to serve as president – Dr. Gary Kachanoski. I am very familiar with Gary’s career as an internationally-renowned scientist and Hall-of-Fame conservationist; as a department head, dean of graduate studies and vice-president (research) at the Universities of Guelph, Saskatchewan and Alberta respectively. I know that the Board of Regents made a wise and inspired decision when, 11 months ago, it named this man as your new president. Today marks the formal launch of what I believe will be a distinguished university presidency.

I am delighted, as well, to claim another connection to Memorial. My beloved uncle and aunt – John and Claire Martin – are with me today. For nearly 40 years they have been members of the St. John’s and Memorial communities after leaving Montreal to join what was then the new medical school here in 1971.

We are privileged, today, to be witnesses to two of the most important events in the life of a university: the installation of a new president and the formal recognition of a new graduating class.

On one level these are two very different events. The installation of a new president is a reaffirmation of the history of a university, and more broadly, a celebration of the idea of the university itself. And today we proudly reaffirm the history of Memorial University dating back to its days as Memorial University College which first opened its doors to 55 students in 1925. From that day to the present, from 55 students to nearly 20,000, Memorial has steadily and impressively developed as the most important public institution in this unique and spectacular place we know as Newfoundland and Labrador. How proud you must be – all of you – the generations of people who built this fine university, including the current generation present here in such large numbers today!

Memorial’s motto provides a wonderful link between this university and the ideal that inspires universities worldwide. “Launch forth into the deep” the motto exhorts us, and reminds us of what is at once the simplicity and complexity of our mission. Simply stated it is to seek truth, but its subtlety lies in recognition that truth is complex and sometimes elusive, and that its pursuit is a difficult and disciplined mission. Here where the sea is never far from our consciousness, we are familiar with the idea that a ship is safest when in harbour but that the purpose of a ship is not to remain in harbour. So too, that journey into the deep that is our university commitment requires us to leave what is familiar and comforting and to venture into new and possibly uncharted waters. It is a noble mission – one that rests on the understanding that in a university it is the merit of an idea that demands attention and respect, not a voice of command, not a pronouncement on morality; not a threat of punishment. And so today, in installing Gary Kachanoski as president, we reaffirm the story of Memorial itself, and the history and mission of universities worldwide.

Our second, great task this afternoon is Convocation – the calling together of all of us to publicly celebrate the fine achievements of this graduating class, and the contribution of their families and friends to the success that we celebrate today. This ceremony is laden with prominent and colourful symbols – from the distinction of special guests to the gowns, hoods and rituals of procession. They are all testimonials to the pride we feel in the achievements of this graduating class.

And so – installation and convocation – two very distinct moments in the life of a university. But on closer examination their differences are reconciled in an underlying unity that makes it very appropriate to combine the two ceremonies in one.

And that underlying unity is that both ceremonies represent a commitment to the future. Is there anything more important in our mortal lives than a commitment to the future, that we as a species on this spaceship earth have a future and that by our actions we can influence its quality? Is there anything more important than that? Here, I believe, lies the key to the unity of this ceremony and to the joy we feel on this beautiful day. The installation of a new president is a commitment to Memorial University’s future, a future that is important to all of us – whether on, or off and beyond Newfoundland and Labrador. And the graduation and celebration of a new class of students is a commitment to your futures – individually, and in terms of the cumulative contributions I know you will make – to Newfoundland and Labrador, to Canada, and to the world.

A moment in time. An optimistic moment; a proud moment; a wonderful moment. I am privileged to share it with you.

Thank you very much.