Comments by Maurice Copithorne on the Occasion of receiving the degree,
Doctor of Laws, honoris causa,
at the Spring Congregation May 23rd, 2002

Mr. Chancellor,
Madame President,
Distinguished platform party,
Ladies and Gentleman,
and finally,
Fellow Graduates.

Long ago, in a building called the Women's Gymnasium, I received my first degree from U.B.C. That building has long given way to the Buchanan Tower.

On that day, I sat where you do now, listening to speeches and receiving a diploma, all in a pageant like atmosphere. We heard of course, about education being a life long process. In my case however, as perhaps in yours, graduation seemed more significant to my parents than to me. Quite frankly I was just interested in getting on with life.

Today, I do not see my task as to lecture you on life, anyone's life perhaps least of all my own. I believe everyone has to find his or her own way according to the times and opportunities that present themselves. What I do want to do, is simply to offer a few reflections on my own journey.

At the time I graduated, I was very much under the influence of post adolescence insouciance. For all intents and purposes, the world, as it seemed to concern me on a day to day basis, had commenced more or less ten years earlier. However, there was one sign of things to come. While hardly an outstanding student, I did frequently win "general knowledge" prizes. Now there were no courses in general knowledge but somehow, despite the pathetic quality of the local press, I was ingesting a lot of bits and pieces.

If I had aspirations, they were quite straightforward - to see something of the world which, translated back in time, meant anything outside of B.C., beyond the Rocky Mountains. That wider world seemed intensively seductive. I had already had a taste of it in my final year here through a trip to Japan to participate in a World University Service seminar.

As things turned out, from the day I got on a plane to fly east, I began to fashion a career that took me and my family to many interesting parts of the world. There was no grand plan. We lived for the time and place. My wife and I came to cherish the special window on our existence provided by our children as they went through parts of their childhood in Kuala Lumpur, in Beijing, in Vienna, in Hong Kong. Their children, our grandchildren, are now embarking on their own discovery of the world.

Let me now come closer to home, to how a more recent generation is seeking its way in the broader world. I have an opthamologist who spends from two to six weeks every few years bringing advanced eye care to remote places of the world with Project Orbus. I have a dentist who, two years ago, donated four weeks of his time to a dental clinic in an Iraqi village and who, six months ago, did the same in Afghanistan. I have recently met a lawyer, seemingly your typical downtown type, who donates his time to Medicins Sans Frontières. Not only does he engage in public relations activities in the city to raise money for this important international NGO, he sometimes serves on Medicins Sans Frontière's missions in the world's hot spots. He can discuss the challenges of delivering health care in disintegrating states.

And then there are my colleagues, now former colleagues, the UN Special reporters charged with monitoring human rights situations around the world. We too serve without fee. My six, almost seven years of service, was a new chapter of my life, one of intense challenge. In particular, I had to come to terms with thinking about human rights, or rather the deprivation of human rights in the particular country for which I was responsible. Girls of 9 years of age, were - and are - being married off to middle aged men, persons convicted of certain crimes are subject to amputation or even stoning, people I had come to regard as my friends were murdered in their beds by vigilantes. I came quickly to realize that I was serving not the international community but the people of Iran.

In concluding, may I ask you to indulge me with an observation. In my own journey, I have come to Greek civilization rather late - very recently in fact. In have found the Greeks addressed most of what we regard as the dilemmas of life. I was much taken with Aristotles's views of man's quest. He used the Greek work usually translated as "happiness" not necessarily pleasure, but rather, its seems to me, a sense of satisfaction, growing out of fulfillment. In thinking about my remarks for today, I concluded it had been my great good fortune and joy to have had such fulfillment.

Now it remains for me simply to urge you to find your own path, to seek your own sense of fulfillment beyond that of the day's labour.

I wish you well in life's journey.

Thank you.