Mr. Chancellor, Mr. President, Distinguished Guests, Fellow Graduates:
It is a very special privilege for me to stand before you today, at this the Second Spring Congregation of UBC Okanagan, to receive the distinction of an honorary doctoral degree.
I want to begin my brief remarks by thanking you, Mr. Chancellor, the Senate and the Selection Committee for recommending me for this important tribute, which I accept with humility and gratitude.
My modest contributions to the social fabric of our country, especially those pertaining to the achievement of just and lasting Treaties with many of the First Nations, and my life-long dedication to environmental preservation and stewardship would not have been possible, were it not for the encouragement, support and collective assistance of countless friends, family and associates.
Any honour of this import is an honour to be shared with all those who inspired, who encouraged, and assisted me in reaching the milestones of my life's journey. Of course this list includes the several Professors and mentors who taught me to think and act boldly, and many of you present today who played a role in making these achievements possible. Thank you, everyone!
Permit me to pay special tribute to my Mother Trudie (88 years) and my beloved wife Pat, both of whom are here to share in this important event. Mom and my Dad, Ron managed to raise five children on a meagre barber's income, always encouraging us to seek our highest goals in the pursuit of happiness, and in service to others. They ensured that I would go to "Varsity", as Dad called it.
My wife Pat has been my greatest supporter, helpmate and quiet advisor. She also managed to nurture our five children through 45 years of every-changing and always exciting family life, including 18 tumultuous years in politics.
And now, I would like to offer a few of my personal thoughts, and words of encouragement to you my fellow graduates of the UBCO "Class of 2007".
First of all, may I commend you on the achievements which each of you has attained as you conclude this significant chapter of your educational journey. Whether your degrees conferred today lead you to careers in the creative arts, letters, language, social, educational or health-related fields, you will all share one legacy throughout your lives. That is the experience of studying and learning here at UBCO, of forming new friendships, and of shaping new and lasting convictions about your place in the world.
Your place in the world – let's think about that subject for a few moments. What kind of world will it be?
I am reminded of the day 44 years ago last week when I sat where you are seated today, waiting expectantly to receive my Bachelor's Degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Alberta. It was a heady day, with all the pomp and ceremony and a great air of excitement about the unknown adventure, which we were about to embark upon.
In 1963 the world was booming with economic optimism, increasing prosperity, and amazing technological advances. Sony had just invented the transistor radio, the Beatles were playing everywhere, and John F. Kennedy had inspired Americans to put a man on the moon, within a decade.
But it was a very intolerant world, compartmentalized into "them" and "us", and with the spectre of the cold war, nuclear arsenals and Vietnam poised like a time bomb. Aboriginals and Francophone Canadians were still treated as subjugated peoples. There was no concept of environmental responsibility, and little regard for basic human rights. Poverty and human suffering in the "developing" world were largely ignored.
As you can see, the world of my graduating year was a far different place then it is today. But over the following four decades we tried to do the best we could, with the tools we had, to prepare for a more enlightened, a more tolerant, a more generous and peaceful 21st Century.
But serious, threatening storm clouds have begun to gather once again. Our planetary life support system is endangered by global climate change. The international economy is teetering on the hinge-pins of oil power, political instability and terrorism.
Major health risks are emerging, including substance abuse and HIV-AIDS. Energy, food and water shortages are lurking just over the horizon. Here in Canada we have still not resolved over two hundred years of injustice and disproportionate hardship faced by aboriginal peoples.
Can you now begin to imagine what your world will look like 40 to 50 years for now? Perhaps not, but the point I am making is that you are our best hope. You have been equipped with the tools to cope with an uncertain future.
The lessons of history teach us that enlightened leadership, guided by moral responsibility, is the only defining line between good and evil in the world. Your degree is a gift. Treat it as a passport to an exciting new adventure.
Be prepared to operate outside the box of your formal education. Let your heart and your spirit guide you to do what is good in the world. Lead by your example.
This gift, the degree you will be receiving in a few moments, has been enriched by your experience at this University. Put it to work, to bring harmony and enlightenment to our increasingly challenged world; to resolve conflicts, not to enlarge them; and to build a more just and healing society.
The gift is yours. Tuum est! It is up to you now.
My very best wishes to you all!
Hon. Tom Siddon, Ph.D.