Convocation speech text follows below: 

Thank you Chancellor Emeritus.

Distinguished Guests, Colleagues, Friends, Graduands:

Good morning. I want to welcome you all very warmly to this convocation ceremony. Not only is today a celebratory day for all of us in the Queen’s family, this is also graduation season throughout the Canadian university community, and everywhere in this country talented and accomplished people like today’s Queen’s graduands are reflecting on their past achievements and eagerly anticipating the futures that lie ahead of them. Our national association, Universities Canada, is rightly celebrating this moment for our country, as we begin—perhaps a little cautiously—to renew and rebuild our communities after two extraordinary and unprecedentedly disrupted years.

What is being celebrated is not merely the resumption of the world order prevailing at the start of 2020, but rather the beginning of something new. I read recently a research report that suggested people like yourselves “are using the pandemic’s reality shift as an opportunity to make major life changes,”[1] to rethink values and behaviours that before the pandemic seemed effectively immutable. Your university profoundly supports you in the hopes and aspirations for a better world that you nurture today.

Consider the degree to which our merely being able to assemble in this arena is to be remarked upon and valued in a new way. As veterans of that COVID-19 disruption, you know intimately the extent to which simply being able to come together in a space like this now carries a special significance it would not have done before the pandemic. That is not to say any of us would ever have taken convocation for granted, but it does speak to the new value we all find in togetherness, in community—having learned over the last two years about the unnaturalness and the mental and emotional strain of enforced isolation.

Today the arena is decorated for an academic celebration, but not so long ago—as many of you may recall—it was fitted out as a COVID testing centre for the Kingston community. This is significant: we are here today to celebrate your personal academic success at a site where the community has very recently sought to protect and enhance the health and wellbeing of all of its members, a confluence which speaks to a fundamental aspect of the mission of the university, which is to realize the potential of individuals while simultaneously being committed to building a just, equitable, prosperous and sustainable society—one to which all in their own way contribute, and from which all in their own way benefit.

My request of today’s graduands is to please remember both dimensions of what is involved in this convocation. Celebrate, please, your personal and individual successes—you have definitely earned the right to do that. But also think about those successes in the context of the greater good, of the role you might play in building and advancing the communities of which you are all a part. Begin close to home (because none of us succeeds without the support of friends and family), and then think about your future and the ways in which you might contribute to the good of society, locally as well as globally, and to the fortunes of our planet.

I would have issued the same challenge to you before the pandemic, but as I said at the outset, we are now much more acutely aware of the fragility of things we would once have taken for granted. The lesson of COVID-19 has been a chastening one, bringing home the realization of how much we do not know that could bring the health and wellbeing of our entire species into question. We have learned more, also, about the mysterious symbiosis of body and mind, and therefore about the role of the human and social sciences in physical wellbeing. We also find ourselves at a moment in history when the value of expertise and education is being challenged, when the very idea of peace, order and good government is being called into question, when civility and the rule of law is increasingly assailed around the globe. And every day we are confronted by evidence that the physical world we inhabit is changing in ways that only the resources of every academic discipline within the university, working together and in dialogue and cooperation, will enable us to address.

All of which is to say this convocation is a very special one. You are graduating from programs that have equipped you exceptionally well to have a positive and direct impact in the world; and more than in many years, you are graduating sensitized to our vulnerability as both physical and social beings. That sensitivity, tied as it is to your talent, imagination, ingenuity and determination to succeed, gives us all great hope and immense pride.

My warmest congratulations and all best wishes for your—and our—good future.

[1] rbcwealthmanagement.com: “How Different generations Will Adapt to Post-Pandemic Life”

 
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