I had lunch at Government House this week. It’s hard, and probably even rude, to be taking pictures in that grand mansion, but I was thinking of the blog and did what I did. There’s Honourary Doctorate Robert (Bob) Joy looking straight at me on the left. The lunch was in honour of him and the other awarded doctorates. Every convocation the Lt. Gov in office holds such a lunch, a lovely, ritualistic way for the province and Memorial to gesture toward distinguished figures who have made some sort of contribution to scholarship and/or to the province. Actor, writer (Dr.) Bob Joy needs no special mention, of course, but he has remained such a loyal Newfoundlander, even while gracing the sound stages of CSI or Hollywood, that it’s always good to be in his sunny presence. It seemed to be as much of a kick for him to be there as it was for the guests who honoured him.
It’s been a stretch of the ceremonial and ritualistic, to be sure. Last week we hosted three convocations, a long day of pomp and parchment, but also very satisfying to be launching all those graduates into the deep. It’s kind of a zen experience having to endure a day of ceremony without my iPhone—does me good. I think I have counted the number of lights on the ceiling of the Arts and Culture Centre several times. In my provostial robe I don’t have much to do except sit in the front row and try and look pretty, and so I often imagine how I would make a film of the event. I would open the movie with the ceremony and then focus on three different students, following their career and life paths, seeing what comes of them and the credentials they have earned. Maybe in my next life.
And so, as fall convocation passes, and as I emerge from one of the busiest weeks of my life, November and winter loom. We are midway through the semester now, with lots of promises to keep. Another civic ritual also looms on the horizon. We are heading into a provincial election, having just recovered from the surprising federal one, and so we are anticipating some public discussion around funding education. Nothing like an election to focus a topic. I have been wondering whether or not to help stage a public forum on funding for post-sec ed with political leaders, but perhaps I should be careful what I wish for. But this will be a time and an opportunity to hear what political leaders and wannabe leaders are thinking about their investment in Memorial, whether we like their messages or not. In my view, the best possible outcome of an election would be a government that is squarely, openly committed to keeping tuition low (how about non-existent?) and maintaining a sustainable investment in the institution—a government that recognizes our collapsing infrastructure and has a vision about rebuilding the campus to keep pace with 21st century teaching and research. If not, then what is the point? Memorial has been gathering good momentum for years, and the growing size of our graduate student cohort demonstrates that the hunger for a first-class institution is more intense than ever. There are rumours of universities closing down in Nova Scotia because they can’t pay their bills, even while their tuition fees escalate. We are in a much better position than they are, or so I like to think.
As the only university in the province we need to be bold and progressive, offering obvious pathways for economic and social prosperity, while keeping an eye on how best to retain all those students from other parts of the world. I try and keep this imperative in view every single day. That’s my own little seasonal ritual.