June is convocation month, a time when the parents of university students spend hours crammed into the nosebleed seats of auditoriums waiting for the fleeting moment when their child struts across the stage wearing a square hat to collect a hard-earned and expensive roll of paper.
It is also the time of year when notable and accomplished Canadians take the stage to deliver nuggets of wisdom in the form of convocation addresses. These addresses are often filled with familiar ideas – do good, make a difference, follow your heart, never stop learning, wear sunscreen. In one such address, a famous cartoonist once observed that commencement speeches “were invented largely in the belief that outgoing college students should never be released into the world until they have been properly sedated.”
After attending 16 graduation ceremonies and shaking 3,600 hands this season, rookie university president Richard Florizone, who has been on the job for one year at Dalhousie University, has had some time to reflect on what makes a good speech.
“The ones that are great are personal and authentic; they distill a story into some advice,” he said.
And to really knock it out of the park?
“You have to have at least one joke.”
Follow your passion:
Holly Cole, musician, at Queen’s University:
[It] doesn’t matter if your passion ends up being your profession. What does matter is that your passion is a part of your life in some way. And if you go on to have families … and of course you all have circles of friends … well, they can be part of it, or not … but something that is for you and something that is distinctly yours and that you love to do … make it some part of your life.
Ron Burnett, president and vice-chancellor, Emily Carr University of Art and Design:
You are risk takers. A piece of wood becomes a beautiful totem pole. Large swaths of fabric are turned into floating objects that respond to the movements of people as they stare in wonder at the simplicity and grandeur of an airborne sculpture. A large painting becomes a modern-day expression of Rubens, replete with cellphones and computers painted onto a background from many hundreds of years ago.
Maureen Sabia, chairwoman of the board for Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. and named one of Canada’s 100 most powerful women by the Women’s Executive Network, at Dalhousie:
I am a bossy woman and I do not apologize for that. In fact, I am proud of it. It means I am a leader. By the way, ladies, ignore the Ban Bossy campaign. Truly ambitious girls are too smart to let a single word stand in their way. And we should not make a victim of all girls by banning a word for their protection. We should encourage their aspirations and delight in their leadership goals. Let’s all resolve to be bossy.
David Dodge, former governor of the Bank of Canada, at Queen’s:
During the last quarter of the 20th century, my challenge and that of my generation of policy makers was to find employment for a rapidly expanding labour force of baby boomers. We largely succeeded. Baby boomers got jobs. Employment grew and total national income rose. But productivity – that is the output of goods, services or art generated on average by an employed person – did not rise.
But now the baby boomers are retiring and for the next 20 years the fraction of our total population that are in the active labour force will fall dramatically.
So if Canada is just to maintain today’s average per capita standard of living, all of you will have to find ways to work smarter, not just harder and longer. You will have to be creative; to invent new ways to produce new and better art, literature, music, public services and goods. In short, whether you set up your own business, join a company, teach or go into the public sector, you are going to have to innovate.
Mark Wiseman, president and CEO of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, at Queen’s:
It used to be that immigrants to this country were at a disadvantage. Today, those who aren’t bicultural or multicultural need to get up the global curve and fast. At CPPIB we look to hire people who have global experience. If you grew up in north Toronto, went to York University, then worked at a downtown bank and think that the far east is Oshawa, you need not apply … A student in China can, just as easily as you, apply to a job posting for a company in your own backyard. Figure out how to get a job in their backyard.
Wade Davis, explorer in residence at the National Geographic Society, professor at the University of British Columbia, at York University: