Convocation Ceremony Speech
Please note: Speeches appear in the language in which they were delivered.
Recteur et vice-chancelier Frémont, collègues, diplômés et leurs familles,
Étudiants et amis de l’Université :
Je ne parle pas bien français, mais permettez moi de dire merci, merci beaucoup. L’Université
d’Ottawa est une institution formidable avec une impressionnante histoire. Je chérirai ce titre
d’honneur, et je serai fière de porter vos couleurs, le grenat et le gris. Go, Gee-Gees!
Now, again with your permission, I will speak anglais. I am deeply grateful for my honorary degree and for my new place among your more than 210,000 alumni. I also wish to pay my respects to the ancient history of this land and these waters. I understand that the word “Ottawa” is from the Algonquin word “adawe.” It means to trade. However, I would not trade my degree for anything in the world.
I have now had the privilege of signing your Golden Book. They say that silence is golden, but I have also been asked to give a convocation address. As a result, I cannot be silent, but I can be brief.
My theme will be simple: We need universities — like uOttawa — more than ever. They are the future.
Universities are the future for five reasons:
First, universities educate the citizens of the future. They populate the future. The graduates of the University of Ottawa today will shape the Ottawa, the Canada, the North America, the globe, and the galaxies of tomorrow.
Second, universities freely seek the truth — in all its hideous and magnificent complexity. That is the purpose of research and inquiry. Today, we desperately need the truth if we are to build tomorrow. I am a citizen of the United States and now must live in a regime of lies. Lies are the tool of authoritarians and demagogues. Lies destroy psychological stability, political trust, and perceptions of reality. Lies poison democracies. However, truth ultimately detoxifies and fuels democracies. Like many in the United States, I look north to Canada as my good, democratic neighbour.
Third, universities believe in creativity — in all their schools and disciplines. As we brood about the future, we can be hopeful. We can imagine a future that glows before us like the dawn emerging over the prairies. Or, in contrast, as we brood about the future, we can be apocalyptic. Then we imagine a future that damages and destroys us. Climate change inundates us. But universities encourage and sustain innovation and creative surprises. Doing so, they are the platforms of hope for the future.
Fourth, universities now encourage inclusive communities. Universities have been slow to do so, but now they can bring us together in all our diversity under the bright flag of mutual respect — no matter what our gender, transgender identity, or gender fluidities; no matter what our race, tribe, or ethnicity; no matter whether we are LGBTQ or straight; no matter whether or how we are differently abled; no matter what our economic circumstances; no matter what our faith or beliefs — unless we practice the grim faith of violence against each other and against nature. Universities can be our ethically working community.
Fifth and finally, universities serve their city, their region, their nation, their larger societies. Our sciences are social in moral ambition. Ideas flow outward from the campus to heal the sick, to bring greater justice, to design economic well-being, and to jolt us with bolts of humanistic and artistic imagination. University graduates leave the campus to test and bring these ideas to fruition and its decencies.
In brief, universities like uOttawa are the future because of you, their graduates; the free search for truth; the belief in creativity; the desire for inclusive communities; and their service to larger goods. I am certain that this university, 170 years after its founding in 1848, is prepared for the next 170 years. This is my hopefulness. Thank you for being the University of Ottawa. Merci beaucoup d’être l’université que vous êtes. Thank you for my treasured degree. Merci beaucoup pour ce diplôme précieux. You inspire my resolve to be a non-violent warrior for universities.
Good fortune, bonne chance, bonne chance, to the graduates.