Oration | Address to Convocation
David Christian Ward was born in Sackville, New Brunswick and is a professor in genetics and molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale University.
A figure of considerable international standing in the Human Genome Project, Dr. Ward first developed his interest in microbiology when he came to Memorial. Graduating from Memorial with a B.Sc. (Hons.) in 1961, he went on to the University of British Columbia where he received an M.Sc. and to Rockefeller University (New York) where he received a PhD in 1969. After two years in London as a post-doctoral fellow, he joined Yale's School of Medicine which has been his academic base since 1971.
Dr. Ward is the author of over 200 scientific papers and his research is considered significant. He has advanced the process of genetic mapping by combining fluorescent probes with digital imaging microscopy; he has been able to simultaneously identify different genes on different chromosomes. He has also founded two companies to effect biotechnology transfer: one is developing new means of diagnosing cancer and other deadly viruses; the other is working on the analysis of population genetics to determine the causes of diseases involving multiple-gene defects.
Dr. Ward's work has brought him many distinctions among which are his election as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1992) and as a member of the National Academy of Science (1998). He is the recipient of a number of awards, including a Research Medal from the Surgical Society of America, the Eastman Kodak Prize from the American Association of Clinical Chemistry and the Biochemical Prize from the German Society for Clinical Chemistry.
Dr. Ward will be awarded an honorary doctor of science degree.
Oration honouring David Christian Ward
Dr. Alice Collins, university orator
In 1961 Dr. Raymond Gushue, then president of Memorial University, addressing the last graduating class of Memorial University College quoted Rudyard Kipling, who asked: “What part of the world will bring forth new marvels of the future?” Kipling prophesied: “Newfoundland, a magnificent place, full of the gaudiest and richest stuff. Mark my words, keep your eye on Newfoundland.” To which Dr. Gushue added: “Among the rich stuff of the province are the men and women who come out of Memorial University” whom he exhorted to avail of opportunities and to make their contributions to the world.
David Christian Ward, the honorary graduand who stands before you today, was a member of that graduating class, and proof, Mr. Chancellor, that presidential addresses do not go entirely unnoticed. Allow me to make the case.
David Ward undertook graduate studies at the University of British Columbia where, upon his arrival, he was promptly demoted to first year organic chemistry, his course at Memorial having been deemed below the standard of that Pacific-coast institution. Undeterred, our young graduate was able to ward off Memorial's detractors, his performance being so outstanding that the requirement for upgrading his Memorial work was waived. Added to his own achievement was Memorial's success: his teacher, Dr. Hugh Anderson, was subsequently invited to teach organic chemistry the following summer at the University of British Columbia.
Completing doctoral work at Rockefeller University, Dr. Ward accepted a position at Yale University's School of Medicine, which has been his academic base since 1971.
This modest scientist boasts a prodigious research record, its sheer volume a testimony to his distinguished career. His early studies centred on the chemistry of nucleotides, the stuff of DNA and RNA. He explored the properties of nucleotide analogues that block the growth of the herpes virus. He published the first genetic sequence of a parvovirus in 1983 and he continues to contribute to the knowledge of how these viruses replicate themselves and express their genes in the host cells they infect.
In the area of genetic map-making, he has become a molecular artist. Developing the technique named FISH (fluorescence in situ hybridization). He can light up our genes in a kaleidoscope of colours and make them glow. Ward's work is truly a tour de force requiring an understanding of the physics of optics, computational science, digital imaging, microscopy, molecular biotechnology and cell biology. His resultant contributions to science and humanity are impressive. The list of genes that he has identified and located is a long one. He has published cytogenetic maps of at least four human chromosomes. He has explored genetic and neoplastic diseases in human cells and tissues. Dr. Ward's contributions, which have revolutionized the field of cytogenetics, have led directly to breakthroughs in the detection of normal and mutant genes. His biotechnology transfer companies are developing methods in the diagnosis of cancer and other complex genetic disorders such as panic disorder and hypertension-associated kidney failure.
David Ward's expertise in genetic mapping has led inevitably to involvement with the ultimate in maps: the Human Genome Project.
Lest you think that scholarship alone distinguishes David Ward, I invite you to ponder his prowess and achievements as an athlete. On the baseball diamond he excelled as a pitcher, earning him a contract to play for the farm team of the Minnesota Twins; and if that is not enough to convince you, Mr. Chancellor, you will be impressed to know that the St. John's Guards brought him back from British Columbia to pitch in their championship game for the City League in 1961.
Fortunately for us, though not the Twins, David Ward chose the academy. For his contributions there he has been deservedly recognized by the Surgical Society of America; the American Association and the German Society for Clinical Chemistry. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, that body which recognizes “distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Election ... [to the National Academy] is considered one of the highest honours that can be accorded a scientist.”
In the person of Dr. David Ward the aspirations of Raymond Gushue are met; he has availed of opportunities and he has contributed to the world. Rudyard Kipling would agree that the criterion for gaudiness has been met in the gown worn by the graduand, and surpassed by yours, Mr. Chancellor. It is fitting that in the 50th anniversary year of this university, David Christian Ward be welcomed back to Memorial. I present him to you, Mr. Chancellor, for the degree of doctor of science, honoris causa.
Mr. Chancellor, by your leave, I would like to incorporate a personal addendum to the official list of salutations to include the parents of the graduating students. Their endurance and pride deserve independent acknowledgment. I salute you.
Mr. Chancellor, I would also like the opportunity to salute my mother, Marion Christian, who's in the audience, without whom I would not be here.
It is indeed a pleasure and an honour to have been selected to receive an honorary doctorate from Memorial University, my first alma mater. Since this convocation marks the 50th anniversary of Memorial as a degree-granting institution, the opportunity to participate in this celebration is particularly satisfying. When I was a student here during the late 1950s and the early 1960s, the initial phase of this magnificent campus was still under construction, albeit not as quickly or rapidly as I would have liked. At that time, my family lived in Allandale apartments, just a few hundred yards down Elizabeth Avenue, and I relished the thought of a quick walk to this campus rather than having to ascend and descend Bonaventure Avenue to the site of the old campus on Parade Street. My desire to have the construction rate accelerated was always more acute during January and February when the northeasters howled in off the sea.
Although we were less than a thousand strong at the Parade Street campus (consider the growth now), both faculty and students were as densely packed as capelin rolling on the beach and everyone longed for expansion space. But in spite of the crowded conditions, the time spent at Memorial was among the most enjoyable and enlightening periods of my life. If the experiences of the graduating class have been even a fraction as positive as mine, you have been greatly enriched indeed.
While I am delighted to have to chance to address the graduating class of 1999, there was a time when I contemplated declining the opportunity. Dr. May, the past president, when extending the invitation, informed me that I had to present a 15-minute oration. This was quite intimidating to me since scientists, while use to giving talks and seminars, have never been known as accomplished orators. Indeed scientists rely heavily on visual aids such as slides, transparencies and videos as crutches to guide the organization and information content of their presentations. Reading from a prepared text, as I'm doing now, is something I've never done before and it loomed, as it still does, a daunting task for me. Dr. May assured me it was going to be a piece of cake and he would forward a video of a former honorary graduate, Rex Murphy, to demonstrate how easy it was going to be. However, after watching the tape in which Rex Murphy's oration and dialogue was eloquent, erudite, humourous, insightful, profound, I was more convinced than ever that I would be like a fish out of water. Who else but Rex Murphy could give an inspired discourse on seal body parts and relate their overall significance to the Newfoundland fisheries. To further complicate my anxiety, Dr. O'Dea, the public orator who introduced Rex Murphy, blended words so cleverly that he could make Satan appear as a choirboy or vice-versa. My reticence to speak to you in this unfamiliar format fortunately was counterbalanced by my desire to participate in this historic convocation and to visit family and friends on the Rock.
Now Dr. Alice Collins could have roasted me royally; I thank her very much for her gentility. I was beginning to feel like I was the community pig, going to be well roasted and about to be served to the audience, but I think I've survived so far.
To all members of the graduating class, I salute you on your accomplishments. You should be justifiably proud of all your achievements. Adult life now lies before you with all its complexities and uncertainties. When I was in your situation, a fresh graduate of Memorial, my mother asked “What do you want to do with your life now that you've grown up?” And I realize that many of you have already elected to go to medical school, nursing school, or to enter engineering, computer sciences, law, education or some other profession. However I'm sure that many of you, like me when I graduated, are still uncertain of where your educational training will take you. All I knew when I obtained my B.Sc. here was that I liked the biological sciences. I started my undergraduate training in marine biology and then switched to microbiology, mainly due to the enticements of Dr. Glen Bartlett, a young assistant professor at the time in the Biology Department. Unfortunately Glen, a Brigus native whom I kept in contact with over the long years, died in 1998 of cancer.
In spite of Dr. Bartlett's persuasive arguments to stay with microbiology, I sampled the fields of biochemistry, biophysics and virology, before picking a real job, as my mother would call it, something that paid, as a junior faculty member at Yale University. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd end up as a college professor at a reasonable university, teaching medical and graduate students biochemistry, genetics or molecular biology, and running a research program focussed on biomedical sciences. I feel confident in saying that many of you graduates will settle on your final calling in fashion similar to the way I did, a rather circuitous route, here, there and yon, having to zig and zag. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Education is a never-ending enterprise and the broader the knowledge base you can obtain, the better it will be for you as an individual.
You've been blessed with a solid educational foundation at Memorial and it's now up to you to build upon it wisely and productively. New surprises and unexpected opportunities will reveal themselves as your career development program unfolds. For me, one of the unexpected perks of being a research scientist has been the thrill of travelling extensively throughout the world to participate in scientific conferences and symposia. I've had the good fortune of visiting every state in the United States, every province in Canada and most countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America, and this has provided me with educational experiences that no textbook or Internet Web site could possibly duplicate.
It also converted my mother into an accomplished geographer, as she religiously mapped my various sojourns on her Rand-McNally map.
However, I shudder to think that I almost missed the opportunity to savour these experiences as I'd come within a hair's breadth of not graduating from Memorial at all. My graduating class, like many others I'm sure, held a post-exam, but pre-graduation dance and soiree at an establishment in Topsail. To avoid potential problems with DWI (driving while intoxicated) we arranged buses to transport us to the party and then return to the Parade Street campus in the wee hours of the morning. I and several of my friends, who remain anonymous out of concern for my safety, decided in spite of the late hour to continue the bash at the student union. The building was locked tighter than a drum but we found a way in and a sing-song ensued. The night watchman arrived not long after and requested that we leave but not before his ancestry was called into question. He retreated quietly; however, the Constabulary arrived a short time later and took the instigators, including me, to the docket. Fortunately, we were allowed to go home as the parents of several MUN students, including members of the judiciary and the RCMP, intervened on our behalf.
Despite our reprieve, we still had to face the wrath of the dean, Moses Morgan, an event that put the fear of God into all of us. After one of the worst tongue-lashings I've ever had in my life, Dr. Morgan said to me that I had to pay a fine of $10 to the university. Failure to do so would precipitate expulsion. Now being devoid of adequate capital, I fretted for several days before finally confessing to my mother the various sins that I had committed. She promptly provided a crisp $10 bill which I rapidly transferred to the dean's office and I graduated with the rest of my class.
And I trust that none of this year's class has experienced a similar humiliation. No signs out there yet.
That gave me one of my strongest non-academic lessons. Never, never, never underestimate the power and influence of your friends. Now irrespective of which profession or endeavour you pursue following graduation, you will all benefit from your Newfoundland heritage, even if you're not a native Newfoundlander. The tenacity, the fortitude, the spunk of Newfoundlanders are legendary and forged from our lifelong alliance with land and sea. Indeed we live by the code of the sea, which can be either spelled S-E-A or the letter C, that transcends all facets of our life. The first of the sea code is courage, an element engraved in our being by our forefathers. Courage is required not only by those that battle the elements:
the wind, the ice, the water, but it is a prerequisite for tackling the trials and tribulations of everyday living. It takes courage to follow your dreams and to pursue your heart's desire, particularly in an economy that provides little optimism about employment. But you will only really succeed if your accomplishments and your desire come from your heart.
Conviction and commitment are also essential elements of the sea code which, when woven into the fabric of your life, enhances both personal relationships and the workplace. Without these attributes, jobs can become boring and mundane and thus quickly quench the satisfaction that comes with enjoyment of one's work.
Challenge, that's another C-word that will present itself over and over again. Memorial has been an excellent training ground, exposing you to minor challenges such as essay deadlines, problem sets, final exams, and athletic competitions. But many, many more challenges with far greater import lie ahead. In my era, the academic gauntlet was thrown down by now legendary MUN educators including Peter Andrews, Hugh Anderson, George Story, Moses Morgan, Stan Carew. And also Doug Eaton challenged us to excel on the athletic field and sometimes we'd actually rise to the occasion, but not that often.
Regard challenges as stimulators, character builders and potential fun. Then apply your innate talents and your intellectual abilities and when you combine these resources, there are few challenges that will be too difficult overcome.
Curiosity, a trait instilled in every Newfoundlander, particularly your own next-door neighbour, is another hallmark of our heritage. Not only is curiosity a great way to ferret out what's going on in the community, but it's an important driver of innovation. While it is imperative for scientific discovery, it can fuel technological advances and improvements in every profession or occupation. Curiosity is one of the underpinnings of creative spark, and I call upon all of the students to use it liberally. With curiosity comes entrepreneurship and economic development, and in this regard I'm delighted to see that both the university and the provincial government are fostering a local entrepreneurial spirit that could, in the fullness of time, make Newfoundland a significant international player in the fields of marine sciences, ocean resources, biotechnology, information transfer and new informatics. Newfoundland has the raw intellectual talent and the educational machinery at Memorial to develop and exploit novel ideas that will become dominant technologies and business enterprises in the next millennium.
Indeed I was delighted yesterday to hear that Dr. Meisen, the incoming president and vice-chancellor, is committed to working with the corporate sector and the government to ensure that new initiatives will be pursued aggressively. I sincerely hope that these new initiatives are seeded with sufficient resources to come to fruition and in full bloom.
People from Newfoundland and Labrador have a worldwide reputation as a friendly and gregarious people. If personality traits were determined solely by genetics, I would have to conclude that Newfoundlanders are uniformly well-bred, with a provincial phenotype that's truly dominant. The prevailing personality traits that make Newfoundlanders stand out in a crowd, irrespective of which town or outport community they originate from, includes compassion, congeniality, comradery, charity, caring and candidness. Fortunately many negative traits such as callousness, complacency, cantankerousness, have been bred out of the island society. At least almost.
So, in conclusion, as you graduates embark on your own unknown futures, think of the sea code and hope that it will help guide you through the storm into a safe harbour or haven. You will then become an effective captain of your own destiny. Go forth and dominate the 21st century. Godspeed.
Honorary Degree Recipients: Fall Convocation 1999
James H. Rogers
John Kenneth Galbraith
David Christian Ward
Donald Frederick Cook