Chancellor Sauder, President Piper, guests, colleagues, family, friends, graduates, ladies and gentlemen.
I am deeply moved by the decision of the University of British Columbia to offer me an honorary degree. I am grateful to this great university, and to my colleagues and friends who have stimulated and supported me during the more than fifteen very happy years I have spent here. I also thank my family for their continuing and loving support.
Graduating students: this is a great day for you. You have completed one of the most important stages of your life after years of intensive learning and work. You have begun to understand your chosen profession; you have made new friends and had life-forming experiences.
You are now looking forward to the next important stage. Whether you choose to start your career in the private or public sector or continue to study toward a higher degree, always remember that you are fortunate to live in a country in which democracy and freedom are taken for granted, a country rich in traditions, but open to change, a country which challenges you to work and achieve your dreams, a country in which your ethnicity, race, color, and gender enrich the whole we represent, and where your achievements, successes and rewards are dependent upon your work, your determination, and your willingness to give as a person to those around you.
How fortunate you are to be part of a generation that has not known, and hopefully will never know, the horror of wars and dictatorships. I have seen something of both. I was a child of war-torn Europe. The Second World War uprooted my family and me and only an extraordinary chain of events spared our lives. After the war, when Nazi Germany was defeated, our hopes were dashed when another era of dictatorship engulfed Eastern Europe, another era of injustice, oppression and lack of opportunity.
I vividly remember the time of my graduation - no celebrations, no choices, and no opportunities. I could not choose the city in which to live, the place to work, or the apartment to call home.
I had to accept whatever the oppressive state allocated to me or be sent to jail for sabotaging the system. It was not easy to persevere and keep believing that there would be a light at the end of the tunnel for my family and me. But here we are!! No wonder I still think that my life here is too good to be true. Love for my family, my interest in people, my trust in friends and a steely determination never to give up gave me strength and I continued to struggle for what I believe in. I wanted to believe what Disraeli wrote, "Man is not the creature of circumstances. Circumstances are the creatures of men" (and, of course, of women). I never gave up and continued to struggle for what I believe in.
The freedom and opportunities you have bring with them the responsibility to live your lives so that when you reach my age and look back you can proudly say to yourself "I did my best".
Only a very few extremely gifted individuals create world famous works of art, or revolutionize science and technology and leave an obvious mark for future generations to see. Nevertheless all of us leave footprints of some kind. We all can contribute to the best of our abilities.
The way we do our work, the way we treat our parents, our spouses and children, and our neighbours – this is all part of what we can do for others and what, in turn, we hope to receive.
To those students who will return to their home countries after having completed their studies at UBC, I would like to say that you have enriched us through your presence, you have left something permanent with us and I hope you will always consider Canada a part of you and remember UBC, its professors and students, as your friends.
My young engineering colleagues, you have chosen a most exciting profession, one that is increasingly central to our prosperity, our environment and our well being. You are going to be at the very core of the technological revolution that we are experiencing. Your profession equips you with the tools to make life better: for the miner, who will use remote control and therefore will no longer have to risk health and life; for the sick and handicapped, whose lives will be made easier with the devices you will build; for travelers who will use the safer planes and cars you design; for all people, because the air we breathe and the water we drink will be cleaner as you develop technologies which will produce less pollution; and for the poor of many countries as your skills assist them on the path to prosperity.
You are fortunate to be starting your professional life at a very exciting time and you should be filled with hope and optimism. Engineering has always offered intellectual challenge and has required knowledge, courage, and the ability to make decisions and take responsibility. However, at no time in history have we seen such an explosion of new engineering knowledge. The power of technology is enormous. The responsibility to use it well is a challenge to your generation of engineers and those yet to come. You will have an incredible opportunity to use what you have learned, and will continue to learn, for the benefit of humanity. Your ability to learn and adapt will be critical because the way you work in five or ten years will be very different from the way your work is done today. You must continue to be curious - never stop asking questions. Good answers generate even better questions and you will find excitement along the way.
Information technology and the confluence of biological and physical sciences will radically change what we do and how we do it. Do not fear change, welcome it! The University has equipped you well to handle it.
Look at change as a challenge rather than a threat and you will no longer wonder whether you have been taught and shown the best path; you will trust your own abilities, you will grow with every problem you solve, you will become more secure and confident and you will enjoy responsibility and will carry it well.
Engineers will have to learn to play a broader role in the very complex society in which we live. Our "professional" lives must be people oriented and so be far broader than equations and drawings. We must learn more about other nations, their histories and cultures, their likes and dislikes. We have to make technical and ethical decisions based on many aspects of our entire world, and we have to communicate those decisions clearly and convincingly.
Raise your head from your computer terminal and look around. Search for what is of value and what you can improve, and plunge in. I look forward to seeing what you will achieve.
To all of you here today, I wish health, happiness and success in your endeavors.