Eminent Chancellor Sarah Morgan Sylvester, President Stephen Toope, Congregants in Arts, Graduate Studies and Social Work: Members of the Board of Governors and Senate, faculties and Staff, proud Families and Friends, honoured Guests:
I begin with a tribute to Arthur Erickson, who died yesterday and who has left this world, country, province and city an immortal legacy of splendid Architecture. I also offer respectful acknowledgement of the Musqueam, Squamish and T'sliel Watuth Peoples of the Coast Salish First Nation in whose traditional territories the University of British Columbia is proudly located. My thanks go to the University Community and Senate for the honor of receiving this degree, and the rare honor too of being with you at this signal time in your lives. Established a hundred and one years ago in the opulent confines of a 19th century Industrialist's mansion in Victoria; UBC's century of excellence moved to this campus in 1925. Although its roots were firmly anchored in a world that no longer existed, such was the vision and academic grasp of The University of British Columbia's Leaders, Founders and Visionaries with that of those who followed, that the faculties and Schools of this University have transcended time in response to the ever-shifting demands of a globalizing world. It has been a dynamic process, as this institution has inspired succeeding generations of leaders and distinguished Alumni who have shared their gifts of learning, research, wealth and service to develop and enhance this admired Public University.
Those of you in the Class of 2009 now join the ranks of Alumni in the full understanding that the reputation of every great University rests on the achievements of its graduates. During more than ten decades of operations, those who have worn the "gold and blue" have also embodied the wisdom of UBC's motto, "Tuum Est": freely translated as meaning “It is up to you”. On this day of your achievement and transition, it is of that concept of the responsibility of the individual that I speak.
Listening to the "cant" of our time, you could be forgiven for depression. Daily we hear and read of the death-knell of Capitalism, Free Markets and Globalization with dozens of lesser fears in a litany that would make "Chicken-little" cry. Yes, it is true, you are emerging into a less than promising world. BUT, as one who was born in the 1930's it may be small comfort for you to you to know that you are not the first to be "launched" in unpropitious times! In fact, you MAY be among the first who we have deliberately taught that you "can do anything" even in negative situations. You may have to improvise in the immediate years ahead to overcome a daunting economic crisis, cataclysmic climate change, a potential for planetary pandemics and all the "thousand natural shocks the flesh is heir to", as Shakespeare phrased it. BUT in spite of all, YOU CAN succeed!
When "its up to you", you are aided in the knowledge that throughout history worlds CAN be and HAVE BEEN changed! We 20th Century people lived in a time often described as "drenched in blood" that came to a violent end in the hubris and tragedy of New York's World Trade Centre attack in 2001. YET, the 20th Century was also and undeniably a time of untold advances in medicine, science, the arts, culture and social consciousness. I also signal the emergence and preliminary codification and initial implementation of Human Rights legislation to the benefit of the human family. You who are 21st Century people are now summonsed to extend that legacy far beyond its original imaginings. I mention just three of the great Movements of the last century that continue to reverberate positively in your time and that still affect almost every aspect of our current lives. The Environmental, the Women's Movement and the gradual move toward Universal Human Rights all reached a major "flowering" from the mid 20th Century and are yet far from reaching the true arc of their influence.
Of all the western-based political actions of the last Century, surely the Women's Movement has left a most positive legacy on today's society. As one who has enjoyed the great freedoms of Canada, I am keenly aware that I would most certainly NOT be here accepting this Honorary Degree based as it is on my life's work, had it not been for the dedications of generations of women before me who faced down prejudice, blind discrimination and hostility to move civilization's agenda toward greater inclusion and equality of access for ALL citizens. I still proudly embrace an 1895 Oxford University definition of Feminism stating that: "a Feminist is a woman or girl who has within herself the strength to fight her way to independence".
Today as the focus for women shifts from west to east it is those women forced to live in the unnatural bondage of 7th century theological misogyny to which we direct our energies and support. In Afghanistan and elsewhere, women seek redress from humiliating and oppressive cultural, religious, educational and societal injustices and inhuman isolation. The 300 women who protested on the streets of Kabul during this year's International Women's Day, risked their lives to do battle against deep-seated and institutionalized misogyny that this new Century must overcome if we are to liberate both men and women from the shackles of the past. Those courageous women and the few good men who supported them know, as do we that "until all women everywhere are free, no woman anywhere is truly free!"
I have never been able to see the profit in looking backward. It remains incomprehensible to me that in the name of a tradition, most likely one that was founded in "the cave", that any Nation would consciously choose to oppress half its population, using only half its human potential to pursue its destiny.
If the 21st Century is to extend the fragile legacy of Human Rights and meet its hopeful destiny: YOU are among its learned proponents and will have to carve out wholly new directions, policies, strategies and ideas to foster the advancement of the human family. You leave your studies as members of the best educated, most privileged generation on earth AND as I know you are keenly aware "from those to whom much has been given, there is much expected".
YOU have the distinct advantage of living in a time when some venerable institutions of record such as General Motors and perhaps Daily Newspapers and under-regulated international money-markets to name only a few, are either evolving or being consigned to the "dust-bin" of history. In such a time, the door is flung wide-open wide to CHANGE. It is an opportunity for unprecedented innovation, creativity and the advancement of newly relevant and more socially, economically and environmentally SUSTAINABLE institutions. That is where your personal gifts of creativity, imagination and invention can be used to change not only your own direction, but also the direction of a world in crisis. "CHANGE” becomes more than a political slogan, it is the "order of the day" during a world in crisis. CHANGE is the "watchword" of our time and is perhaps best demonstrated by the struggles of world's last super-power, now making a 180-degree turn from its recent past, to a steadily advancing direction that (heaven forefend!) appears in part to be harmonizing itself with Canadian principles of health, education and financial regulatory systems! That is change indeed (and change WE can believe in, to coin a phrase)!
There are so many worlds for you to conquer, both real and virtual! From the perspective of my seven decades I fervently believe that the 21st Century will see major advances on uncounted fronts, perhaps to be led by further implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I ask you also, not to look only beyond our borders for "worlds to conquer". Canada is worthy of your best in every realm of endeavor, with a vigour born of citizens whose ancestral roots are to be found in every nation on earth. We are also a people with an ancient and powerful indigenous heritage. In terms of domestic Human Rights, there remains an outstanding issue of particular relevance here in British Columbia, requiring long overdue and honorable resolution. It is time that the residue of Colonialism that is our failure to recognize Aboriginal Rights be addressed with recognition and codification. I trust your generation to act where we have failed! We have proven that we can build a country worthy of emulation and respect now the work must be continued.
Your challenges are monumental and so were ours: a world in crisis awaits you! What greater challenge could you ask? You can choose to face any number of opportunities: perhaps to enhance, to honour and to enrich the multiple cultures and peoples and lands with which we share this earth! You could build and secure systems of health and education that are capable of reaching the farthest corners of the earth! You can work to create the sciences, the arts and the administrative capacities that will help distribute increasingly scarce resources and positive benefits on the basis of need rather than greed.
You are charged to live each day of your existence in the full knowledge of your OWN capacity to add to the riches of our shared society. You can make your own voice heard and your best instincts realized and you can leave your own inimitable and positive mark on a welcoming future that all too quickly becomes the misinterpreted past.
Our fondest wishes go with each one of you, because after all: "Its Up To You" to IMAGINE AND TO WORK TOWARD a better world! Tuum EST!