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Canadian author Rohinton Mistry speaks to Ryerson University graduates and their families after receiving a Doctors of Letters degree from the university‘s Faculty of Communication and Design on Friday, June 8. (Clifton Li/Ryerson University)
Canadian author Rohinton Mistry speaks to Ryerson University graduates and their families after receiving a Doctors of Letters degree from the university‘s Faculty of Communication and Design on Friday, June 8. (Clifton Li/Ryerson University)

Gravy trains for the masses and Rohinton Mistry’s other visions for the Class of 2012 Add to ...

Once was a time, in the country of Acadan, the oldest and wisest professor at the University of Acadan was feeling quite miserable.

The season of convocation was upon the land; excitement and optimism wafted like fragrance in the Acadanian air. For students and faculty alike, it was a time of hope, of great expectations. But for the oldest and wisest professor, loved and admired by all, it brought only unhappiness.

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Every year at this time, when words like “gowns,” “mortar-boards,” “limousines,” and “parties” were trending on Twitter, while others such as “student loans,” “unemployment,” and “recession” were in temporary abeyance, doubt and dejection would descend upon the good professor. Did I do all I could for my students, was the question tormenting him. Was I Socratic enough, did I encourage dialogue and debate? Or did I just keep droning on? Did I demonstrate that it was not so much a matter of learning to think, as it was of learning not to think rubbish?

This year, however, something other than the usual doubt was disturbing him. His being endured restless days and sleepless nights, racked by an anguish he could not name. The haggard face and dark circles around his eyes began to cause his wife grave concern.

“Come now, Professor,” she said tenderly. She always called him Professor when they were alone; in company she used his first name. “Will you not tell me what ails you?”

“I would, my love, I would, if I but knew.”

“My poor, darling Professor,” she comforted, stroking his hand. “Must you fret? You've covered the prescribed texts, your students have written the essays and exams. Did you not mark them all, with copious comments above and beyond the call of duty, to share your vast learning and luminous mind?”

“I did, I did – all that and more,” sighed the professor, taking her hand and raising it to his lips. “And perhaps that’s the reason for my distress – that I followed the curriculum with morbid zeal, hermetically sealing off my classroom from the world outside.”

“Now, now, Professor, you always say second-guessing is a mug’s game.”

“Forgive me, my love. Convocation Day looms, and I dread to face the flower of Acadan’s youth with my troubled conscience.”

They went to bed, he to toss and turn, she to catch what little sleep she could amid the turbulence. Shortly after midnight, however, the professor fell into an unquiet sleep filled with dreams and apparitions.

A figure floated above his bed. In ceremonial robes red as a cardinal’s. And a mortar board with a gold tassel. All swept backward as though in flight, superhero-style. The long white hair and flowing beard were those of an Old Testament prophet, and the professor was thinking, in his dream, that it looked remarkably like Robertson Davies, gloriously airborne.

The figure spoke, in a voice that sounded foreboding: “Hearken unto me, for I am the Spirit of Convocation. Be thou not afraid.”

“Afraid I’m not,” said the professor. “What I am is troubled about my students.”

“Damn it,” muttered the Spirit of Convocation, “I must be losing my mojo.” He tried the doomsday voice again: “Tis thine anxiety for thy students that summons me hither. Verily I say unto thee, wise art thou–”

The Spirit broke off: “Excuse me, but would you mind if I dropped all this ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ business and spoke plainly?”

“I would welcome it,” said the professor. “You’re not doing it too well.”

“Okay, so here’s the deal. You are old, you are wise, and that’s a good thing. But learning is lifelong, and I’ve got things to teach you. You’ll have to hitch a ride with me – me and my magic golden tassel.”

“Sounds like you’re making me an offer I can’t refuse,” said the professor. He gripped the tassel and, in a flash, they were out the bedroom window, soaring through the sky.

The clouds were thin, the night air refreshing. City lights twinkled below but there were no familiar landmarks. Awestruck at this mode of transport, the professor spoke with more deference than he had shown earlier: “O great Spirit, is this Acadan we are flying over?”

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