Spring 2003,
Volume 24, Number 1

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Alisa de Couto and Kathleen Smith celebrate in the fountain outside the McPherson Library

Peter C. Newman (top) at Spring Convocation. (Don Pierce photo). New grads Alisa de Couto and Kathleen Smith get their feet wet in the fountain outside the McPherson Library. (Gregg Eligh photo)

Sage Advice

There were no stone tablets and there was no
mountain to descend, but the author and journalist Peter C. Newman brought 10 commandments for new graduates after he received his honorary Doctor of Laws degree during Spring Convocation. Here is a portion of his address:

“If I could give you two quick words of advice before you go out into the cold cruel world, those two words would be: don’t go! But go you must, so please follow the advice of a Nova Scotia politician I once heard say: ‘It’s time to grab the bull by the tail and look the situation straight in the face.’ That’s what you gotta do, and because I don’t want you to go into the cold cruel world unarmed, I want to offer you 10 commandments to light your way.

The sad fact is that your professors have spent the past four years or more preparing you for a world that doesn’t exist. You have been coddled in a forgiving environment, qualitatively different from the turbulent market-place where you will now have to earn a living.

All that you celebrate today is the end of your apprenticeship. In truth, you stand on the threshold of your real education. And yet, believe me, you will look back at these halls of learning with nostalgia, and even love. You’ve been lucky. Very lucky. So repay your good fortune by never abandoning your idealism.

Which brings me to my next commandment: Always remain open to new experience. You may discover that the middle class life and values (for which you now presumably qualify) are less, much less than you bargained for. Don’t allow yourselves to be tamed or house-broken. Be true to the values of your own generation—not those of your elders.

The seventh commandment is a natural sequel to that thought: Don’t trade off your energy, your imagination, your vitality too cheaply. You and you alone are the future. We have no choice. Utilize that leverage. Don’t let us exploit you. Don’t sell out. (But if you have to, don’t go too cheap.)

That leads me to the eighth commandment: Always fight the status quo. Never join it. I haven’t. Reject the assumption that more is better, the efficiency and material gain are the ultimate goals of human activity. They’re not. Having fun is; by that I mean enjoying what you do and how you live.

Your education, which you crammed so hard to achieve, will turn out to be worthwhile. But always remember this: Your education may or may not provide you with a higher standard of living. But it will provide you with a higher standard of life.

My 10th and last commandment: Get excited about being Canadian. This Canada of ours is not some vague, valedictorian’s dream. Go out and touch the earth. Get to know this country, feel its contours, wade across its streams, climb its mountains, sail its waters, savour its forests (if you can find one). Work to enhance the qualities of life that make this blessed land of ours unique and precious. Never ever take being Canadian for granted.

One last thought. If you don’t feel equipped to comfort the afflicted, go out there and afflict the comfortable. I wish you luck. I wish you fun. Thanks for listening (and don’t forget to floss).”

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