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Former prime minister Paul Martin delivers a convocation address to graduates at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., on June 18, 2010. (Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press)
Former prime minister Paul Martin delivers a convocation address to graduates at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., on June 18, 2010. (Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press)

Veterans of the convocation address share their wisdom Add to ...

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Who: Ken Dryden, former Liberal MP and NHL goaltender

Prior addresses: 7 or 8

Memory of own convocation:

Mr. Dryden, who graduated from Cornell University with a history degree, can’t remember who delivered the address. “It was a long time ago.”

This spring’s roster:

University of Winnipeg on June 6 and Ryerson University on June 7

What to expect:

Of course, there’ll be a hockey metaphor. But there’ll also be an anecdote pegged to his own daughter’s Harvard University graduation several years ago. The sense that day is one he hopes to confer on the University of Winnipeg students: “That their present, in a lot of ways, is leading in directions that aren’t going to work – that they’re going to have to create and find a very different future.” But while he will impart a sense of urgency and ask students to reflect on the kind of life they want to live, he will also bolster their positivity. “They may be told consistently by adults and the media that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, but it isn’t,” he said. “Besides, it’s their world.”

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Who: Deepa Mehta, Oscar-nominated filmmaker

Prior addresses: 7 or 8

Memory of own convocation:

Don’t ask Ms. Mehta who spoke at her Delhi University graduation because the filmmaker wasn’t there – she was hitchhiking in Britain. “I haven’t even picked up

my degree,” she said. “Sometimes I feel that I should go and get it, but it’s probably been eaten by termites.”

This spring’s roster:

Mount Allison University on May 13, University of Alberta on June 5, Ryerson University on June 10 and Concordia University on June 11

What to expect:

Arts with a hint of politics (a bigger hint, she said, in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s home province of Alberta, where her message will not be “pro-conservative”). She said she tends to discuss issues such as arts funding but also more nebulous ideas, like the importance of imagination, which she drove home at Mount Allison. “I don’t think I should stand there being the wise old woman delivering life-changing tips on how to navigate their lives,” she said. The best address she ever heard was one she watched on YouTube, given by the late writer David Foster Wallace in 2005. “It’s brilliant because it’s funny, it’s accessible, it doesn’t talk down to students,” she said. “It’s wise and ironic at the same time.” Part of what made his address so effective is what she hopes to accomplish in her own speeches: “He took for granted that the student body is intelligent.”

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Who: Ed Clark, President and CEO of TD Bank

Prior addresses: 3

Memory of own convocation:

On this front, Mr. Clark is zero for three. “I have an embarrassing thing to say,” he prefaced. “I have three degrees and I didn’t go to any of my convocations.” Still, he took mental notes of what works and what doesn’t while at his children’s convocations and at his wife’s graduation after she earned a PhD in her 50s.

This spring’s roster:

University of Western Ontario on June 18

What to expect:

First, here’s what not to expect: anything remniscent of, as Mr. Clark put it, “the uncle that talks too much at the wedding about himself.” Instead, he’ll invoke a grandfatherly tone, sharing his own life lessons as well as those imparted by his father, an academic who founded the University of Toronto sociology department. “You face enormous pressure to look good, be successful, get ahead, do all these things, but I can tell you that when you get to the end of the journey, those are not the things you’re going to feel good about,” he said, previewing what he’ll say on June 18. He said there are some people – Mr. Dallaire among them – who could say just about anything and be interesting given their histories, but that he must work hard to ensure he makes people think, “That’s interesting, I hadn’t thought about that. I should think about that.” Most importantly, though, he said he recognizes that he’s there to entertain: “They’re anxious to get off and party, and you’re between them and that party. You should be realistic about what you’re trying to accomplish.”

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