Graduands of 2013: Congratulations!
What a wonderful day of celebration in the midst of a chilly Alberta November. We are all here with family and friends—colleagues and classmates—filled with the warmth and satisfaction that comes from having done something important, done it together, and done it well.
Today we celebrate and acknowledge how much you have accomplished. How much you have learned—both about the world and about your own talents, passions, and abilities.
Be proud of your achievements. Be thankful to your parents and families for all of the support they’ve given you.
It wasn’t all that long ago that I was where your parents are today—watching my daughter cross the stage with pride. As we left the ceremony, I asked her, “So what did you think of the convocation speech?” “Oh the speech,” she deadpanned. “I don’t remember a word.”
So, now I know!
What can I tell you that you will remember tomorrow morning after today’s celebrations?
I am going to keep it simple: Be you. Be your best.
I know in asking you to “be you” that I risk being clichéd. Indeed, a comedian once noted that, “A graduation ceremony is an event where the convocation speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that individuality is the key to success.”
Let’s face it, it’s not easy to stand out at convocation—whether you’re a graduate or the president addressing the audience. And yet, even though we are all here, all dressed alike, we are paradoxically all celebrating your personal accomplishments and journey to self-discovery.
Each one of you is coming to the end of an educational experience that is unique to you—whatever comes next must likewise be rooted in who you are. And here’s the tricky part—to achieve this, you need to know who you are and then find a place where you are can have the greatest impact.
Let me tell you story from my own life to illustrate.
Shortly after my own convocation, I began my engineering career in an oil refinery as a mechanical maintenance engineer. Like all jobs, it had its frustrations. There was one piece of machinery, the boiler, which continually broke down and required repeated repairs. I couldn’t believe how often we had to replace the boiler tubes—it bothered me that so much time and materials were wasted.
What could be done, I wondered?
First I thought it was a people problem—clearly things were not being fixed correctly. And then I realized that the problem went deeper—the very materials that the equipment was made of couldn’t bear the high temperature at which they were expected to operate. The quality simply wasn’t there.
A problem-solver at heart, I decided that I wanted to do something about that. And so I ended up back in university where I found a way to take my own personal strengths and change the very materials that boilers are made of.
My career since then, a blend of academia and industry, has taken me to every continent, enabling me to meet extraordinary people, work with inspiring colleagues and students, and apply the results of our research to steel companies trying to make a high quality, defect-free product.
Steel is a fundamental building block of our world—it’s essential that it be of the highest quality possible. The same is true for each one of us. We are all—like steel—the fundamental building blocks of strong communities.
One day each of you will have a story to tell much like the one I just told you about myself. For some of you, that story may unroll more or less as planned—for others, it will involve unexpected twists and unforeseen conclusions. Who knew that a faulty boiler could change a person’s life?
My advice to you today is to watch for opportunities—pay attention to the details—and find your chance to be your best self. As Martin Luther King, the great American civil rights leader once said, “If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry.”
Be you. Be your best. I have tremendous confidence in all of you to do just that. And I’ll tell you why.
Today, you become members of an incredible community of people—the worldwide community of 270,000 U of A alumni.
The story of our alumni is quite remarkable. Look at that story from the big picture and you’ll find that more than 70,0000 organizations founded by U of A alumni here and all over the world have annual revenues of more than $348 billion each and every year. They employ 1.6 million people.
But change the focus and zero in on the detail and you can see a U of A alumni heading up Tijuana’s first pediatric medical centre, another sitting as mayor of Edmonton, another running Asia’s largest retail clothing company.
You’ll see a nursing alumna editing one of Canada’s top magazines, grads of our medical school at the head of major video game company, a political science alumni making horror movies.
Focus again and you see more than 60% of Alberta’s classrooms have a U of A alumni at the front of them.
I have confidence in you because I know what U of A alumni have accomplished in this world and I expect nothing less of you.
Today, as you cross the line from student to alumnus, you become a permanent member of the University of Alberta family. This is your university and you are our alumni. And that means something.
It means that your story will become part of the larger U of A alumni story. The story is now yours to move forward, to push in new directions. But as you do so, remember that this story has—like steel—some essential elements the lie at its core:
First there’s the U of A motto—which is to pursue whatsoever things are true—and then there is the call to service—to do your utmost to contribute and be part of the uplifting of the whole people.
Graduands: Be you. Seek truth. Be your best. Meet that challenge and we’ll all watch as great things happen.
Congratulations and best wishes!
Fall convocation at UAlberta is November 19 and 20, and during that time the entire University of Alberta community will be celebrating the achievements of the Class of 2013.
We want you to share your stories.
Whether you’re a student about to graduate, or a proud parent, family member, or friend, we want you to share your images, videos, tweets and stories with us on social media.
Use the #UAlberta13 hashtag.
We want UAlberta alumni to share their stories, too. Got an old photo of you with your parents, or wearing some fun, now-retro gear? We want to see it. Written a story about convocation, or have other fond memories to share? We want to read them. Just use the #UAlberta13 hashtag.
If you use the #UAlberta13 hashtag on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr, Vine, Tumblr, Facebook (public updates), or other social media sites, we’ll be able to collect your stories for our Storify, which will be featured on our main convocation website (here’s our Storify from the spring). We’ve also launched a Facebook event page for convocation, and invite people to join and check in during convocation.
Congratulations to all our graduands!
Here at the University of Alberta, we have a thriving social media community. Students, faculty, staff, and alumni use social media to stay informed, share their stories, and engage in an ever-evolving conversation about life at the U of A.
If you’re new to social media, or to the U of A, here’s a short guide to help you find your way.
The main University of Alberta hashtag is #UAlberta. Many other schools in the U.S. use #UofA as a hashtag; using #UAlberta allows our community to differentiate itself on social media. Some other important hashtags:
Keep in Touch
The Keep in Touch page features links to all of the main UAlberta social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+, Foursquare, Flickr, Renren, and Blogger), as well as faculty and campus social media accounts. The Keep in Touch page also provides emergency contact and messaging information for students, staff, and faculty.
Key UAlberta Twitter Accounts
Twitter is your best source for immediate, day-to-day updates about what’s happening on campus. Besides the main UAlberta account, here are 15 key accounts for students to follow:
Forever Green and Gold
Show your pride in the Green and Gold by customizing your social media profiles, desktops and devices with a UAlberta avatar, UAlberta Twibbon or campus photo.
A record number of U of A student-athletes and staff, 18 strong in total, wore Canadian colours at the 27th Summer Universiade in Kazan, Russia.
Chelsea Guthrie, a fourth-year student-athlete from the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, and Matt Parrish, head coach of the Pandas rugby team, returned to Edmonton with bronze medals as part of Canada’s women’s rugby team at the biennial games, which ran July 6–17.
The U of A contingent of 13 student-athletes and five coaches, representing five faculties, was the largest the U of A has ever sent to a Universiade. The Canadian women’s soccer team had the most U of A members with eight, followed by three in men’s soccer; two each in track and field, wrestling and women’s rugby; and one in women’s tennis.
The bronze medal in women’s rugby was the highest finish by any U of A student-athlete or staff member in Russia. Men’s soccer finished seventh and women’s soccer finished 10th. Graduate student-athlete Lindsey Bergevin finished 10th in pole vault. First-year tennis player Kristina Sanjevic made it to the consolation semifinals, and wrestler Mike Asselstine was eliminated from competition in the early rounds.
It was a memorable day at Monday Morning Magic at Edmonton’s K-Days as members of the Golden Bears football team spent time with young children with disabilities. Close to 1500 children spent the morning going on rides and getting photos and autographs from Golden Bears players, as well as other members of the Edmonton sports community.
"Thus it has become the task of the university to hold up the highest ideals of life; to help create in the hearts of men and to sustain in them a love for those things which are higher than food and raiment; to emphasize the teaching of the greatest of all teachers: that man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesses. It has become a part of their recognized responsibility to instil a love of those things which really constitute greatness; to emphasize the things of the mind above those of the body; in relation to national life to place patriotism above party; in our relations to others to place love above hate; in our relation to knowledge to choose truth and not error; in our relations to ourselves to be men not things."
—Henry Marshall Tory, address given to the First Convocation of the University of Alberta, 1908
Photo credit: University of Alberta Archives
Class of 2013: Congratulations!
I look out over this auditorium and I am filled with pride at what you have accomplished at the University of Alberta.
This is a day for celebrating your success, for reflecting upon all that you have learned, for acknowledging all those hours that you spent in the classroom, library, and laboratory, for reviewing the experiences you gained out in the field, on co-op placements, in community-service learning assignments, and studying abroad.
Be proud of your achievements.
Be thankful to your parents and families for all of the support they’ve given you. Your families are extremely proud of you. You have no idea the sense of relief they are experiencing. A piece of advice—now would be a good time to ask for money!
You graduate at an exciting time.
Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial space line, announced that they have recruited two pilots for their commercial flight team. Space travel for ordinary people like you and me will become a reality in your lifetime.
I wonder if you have been following over the last several weeks, the tweets of Canada’s own celebrated astronaut, Chris Hadfield, Commander of Expedition 35 of the International Space Station.
Chris Hadfield was only nine years old when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Inspired to become an astronaut, he was the first Canadian to leave a spacecraft and float freely in space. He was the first Canadian to operate the Canadarm.
Did you know that two University of Alberta alumni played significant roles in the making of Canadarm, Canada’s most renowned contribution to the human space program? Garry Lindberg, a U of A engineering alumnus was Canadarm’s project manager, while another alumnus, Lloyd Pinkney, built the space vision system that gave Canadarm two eyes as well as arms. It was in 1981 that Canadarm made its debut on the space shuttle Columbia.
Now, in 2013, we are on the verge of commercial space travel.
This is all the more amazing when you consider that it was only one hundred and ten years ago, in 1903, that Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first controlled, powered and sustained human flight. Their first plane cost less than a thousand dollars and the first flight lasted 12 seconds, travelled a distance of only 120 feet, at 6.8 miles per hour.
And so their journey began. It was neither easy nor speedy. They had trouble establishing legitimacy. Most newspapers did not cover their efforts because no one believed it. They endured crashes, patent wars, and lawsuits.
Finally in 1909, they incorporated the Wright Brothers company. In November of 1910, they transported the first known commercial cargo for a payload of $5000. They also launched a flying school. By 1916, Wright Brothers had trained 115 pilots, and commercial aviation was launched, the wellspring of today’s space travel.
Theirs is an amazing story of grit and entrepreneurship. Unfortunately Wilbur died at the age of 45 of typhoid fever and Orville sold the company in 1915. On Wilbur’s death, his father Milton wrote this about him in his diary:
"A short life, full of consequences, an unfailing intellect, imperturbable temper, great self-reliance and as great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it steadfastly, he lived and died."
As you graduate today, I want you to reflect on the lives of Wilbur and Orville Wright and the many who followed to develop aviation and space travel, including Neil Armstrong, Chris Hadfield and University of Alberta alumni Garry Lindbergh and Lloyd Pinkey.
They saw the right clearly. They have lived lives of consequences. They have led good lives.
Today, as you graduate from the University of Alberta, I challenge all of you to live a good life.
And what will that entail? In our society, we tend to equate a “good life” with an “easy life”—a life of quickly achieved professional success, personal happiness, and financial security.
While it is my hope that you experience all of these good things, I want to turn this notion on its head. Today, I want to suggest to you—that a good life is not an easy life—but an uneasy one. A good life makes you uncomfortable. It includes adversities. It presents you with difficulties that take all of your knowledge, ingenuity, and energy to solve. It tests your fortitude and teaches you the value of failure.
Seeing adversity as a positive force is out of fashion in our society right now. As parents—my children are only a few years older than you—we have tried to raise you well. That has included shielding you from hardship, wanting to save you from pain. But sometimes I worry that with the best of intentions we have inadvertently taught you another lesson. A lesson that teaches you that you need our protection because you can’t handle really difficult challenges.
But do not underestimate yourself.
Today you receive a degree from the University of Alberta. If we have done our job well, we have challenged you to work very hard, to stretch yourself intellectually and creatively. We’ve asked you to get out of your comfort zone and forced you to ask tough questions of yourself.
Now, I want you to go out and seize the opportunity to build the new organizations, industries, and institutions our society obviously needs. Your generation is much more equitable, open and tolerant than mine or your parents. You can be the generation that comes up with the solutions we need to solve cultural and political conflict and reimagine international relations.
New technologies? You’re already there using them in every endeavor from teaching to scientific research to design to business. Can you see the potential in new forms of media for building community, citizen action, information sharing, and so on? Absolutely. Will it be easy? No. Will it take enormous amounts of determination and energy to do the work that needs doing? Yes, it will. But this is what it means to lead a good life.
Today, you join a family of U of A alumni who stand 240,000 strong. This family now also includes today’s honorary degree recipient.
Throughout the history of our university, graduates and honorary degree recipients have been inspired by the two fundamental values on which the U of A is built: the pursuit of truth—quaecumque vera—and the call to use knowledge for the uplifting of the whole people.
We need you to live a good life. I know that you can and will. A good life is not shaped by what you are given but by what it demands from you and how you use your gifts to respond to those demands. Lived well it will bring you much joy and satisfaction.
J.K Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, called on Harvard’s graduating class of 2008 to live a good life in her convocation address. I conclude with her words:
"Tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor … in search of ancient wisdom. [He said]: As is a tale, so is life. Not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters. I wish you all very good lives."
—President Indira Samarasekera
"A convocation is a celebration of individual accomplishments, but it occurs in the context of a particular university community. Nearly eighty years ago, this university was founded to reach out to a world wider than a cluster of buildings in Old Strathcona. The reach of graduands today is wider still, so the traditions are even more relevant — the practice of seeing ourselves the citizens of a larger community; the lesson of applying visions pragmatically."
—Prime Minister Joe Clark, Honorary Degree recipient, Spring Convocation, 1985
Photo credit: University of Alberta Archives.