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An ode to the future

Honorary degree recipient Stephen H. Safe (Arts'62, MSc’63) explores the idea of change in poem to graduating students. 

  • Stephen H. Safe (Arts'62, MSc’63) received an honorary degree and delivered the convocation address on June 10, 2016. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
    Stephen H. Safe (Arts'62, MSc’63) received an honorary degree and delivered the convocation address on June 10, 2016. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • Stephen H. Safe (Arts'62, MSc’63) delivers the convocation address on June 10, 2016. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
    Stephen H. Safe (Arts'62, MSc’63) delivers the convocation address on June 10, 2016. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • An organic and biochemistry professor, Stephen H. Safe (Arts'62, MSc’63) took a more artful approach to his address, presenting his speech in the form of a poem. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
    An organic and biochemistry professor, Stephen H. Safe (Arts'62, MSc’63) took a more artful approach to his address, presenting his speech in the form of a poem. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • Stephen H. Safe (Arts'62, MSc’63) receives an honorary degree from Dr. Jill Scott, Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) on June 10, 2016. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
    Stephen H. Safe (Arts'62, MSc’63) receives an honorary degree from Dr. Jill Scott, Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) on June 10, 2016. (Photo by Bernard Clark)

Queen’s is reserving its honorary degrees in 2016 for alumni in celebration of the university’s 175th anniversary. Throughout spring convocation, The Gazette will profile all 11 honorary degree recipients and explore how Queen’s has impacted their life and career.

Stephen H. Safe, the final honorary degree recipient of spring convocation, took a much different approach for his convocation address to the graduating students gathered in Grant Hall on Friday morning.

“I did what many of you might do and I Googled graduation speeches,” said Dr. Safe, to laughter from those in attendance. “I read a few of them over and, amongst the better ones, what people usually say is ‘if you work really hard, you’ll be a success,’ and that’s not always the way things work out.”

Sharing a story about his experiences on the Queen’s varsity tennis team, he conveyed that, in certain pursuits, your best efforts may still fall short. However, he added, even if the end result is not a success, you should still enjoy the small victories along the way and keep an eye out for other opportunities.

A distinguished professor in the Department of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University, Dr. Safe eschewed the traditional convocation speech. He delivered, instead, a poem on the changes and lack-thereof of the 20th century, calling on the graduating class to rise to the challenge of facing those difficulties that lie ahead.

Dr. Safe’s address took the form of a three-part poem. Titled “Everything is changing, but not really,” the poem first looked at the changes that the graduates are experiencing as their time at Queen’s comes to an end, as well as those that he has seen in his own lifetime. From sequencing the human genome to the discovery of new subatomic particles, and the rise and fall of technology giants, Dr. Safe reminded the graduating class that there is always more to learn and that nothing is truly permanent.

In the second verse, he discussed how the pall cast by the Second World War and the Holocaust, has been replaced – first by the Cold War, and today by the looming threat of radicalization. While the world has evolved and moved forward, he argued, humanity has retained the ability to cause great harm.

“I hope you now understand what I mean by the title of this verse,” he says. “We have made remarkable technical progress but humans remain perverse. Is there hope for the future? Can you turn things around? Can you deal with climate change? Is there a chance for a human rebound?”

Finally, in the third part of his speech, Dr. Safe addressed the future and the possibilities for the future. Pointing to the achievements of great Canadians such as Tommy Douglas, as well as the generosity of Canadians as a whole in accepting refugees from around the world, Dr. Safe encouraged the graduating class to strive to achieve greatness, both for themselves and their fellow citizens.

“My message to you who are graduating is to work hard and do your best.
Your studies and lessons learned at Queen’s will help you pass the test.
Remember the past – wars, ethnic cleansing, any means to all ends.
Only you and your concern for others can help reverse these horrible trends.
It is up to you now, as the newest graduates of this fine institution.
Keeping up with advances in science and technology is only part of the solution.
Remember, if you fail to do so, your employer and coworkers will not lament,
and you will wind up living, again, in your parents’ basement.”

 

See more Convocation 2016 stories