Speech by Mary Collins

First of all thank you to Royal Roads University - Chancellor Robinson, President Cahoon , Vice President Meekison and Graham Dickson for the honour I have received today – it means a great deal to me.

Indeed my links to Royal Roads go back to my teenage years, when I would dream of being invited to a ball on this beautiful campus with some of the handsome cadets. Much later in my life when I served as Associate Minister of National Defence I finally got to the ball, where I met some of the wonderful students and faculty at Royal Roads Military College.

During the transition of Royal Roads to a civilian university I was a member of an advisory group to recommend on the mandate of the new university. Since then, I have followed the progress Royal Roads University has made to be an innovative and creative institution with such a strong focus on leadership. Thus I was delighted to be asked to be one of the new Fellows and even more so to be selected to be one of your honorary graduants. I shall carry this honour with great pride while at the same time remembering and celebrating its history as a military college.

Now I would like to congratulate all those from the Faculty of Social and Applied Science who are graduating today – many of you have made significant sacrifices to further your academic work and so I also thank your families and loved ones who have supported you and shared in what I am sure have been some challenging times. However today is the evidence that your hard work has led you to success and you are being recognized for this achievement.

You have made it – great – so now what?

As is the tradition in commencement speeches, I am supposed to give you some wise advice - well most of you are not the typical 21 or 22 year olds just embarking on your adult lives – you already have many experiences, know your strengths and have shown you have the focus and discipline necessary for the academic success we are celebrating today.

However as I reflect on my own life journey – with its ups and downs, – I would like to share with you four key attributes I believe are essential for a worthy and fulfilling life.

For simplicity sake – and hopefully for remembrance as well I call them - the 4 C’s -

  • Curiosity
  • Courage
  • Connections and
  • Commitment

Let me say a few words about each.

Curiosity – an essential ingredient for the advancement of knowledge – to explore what we don’t know – to ask “ why” and “why not”.

As children we are inherently curious, but too often in adulthood we settle into being complacent “ not it alls”!

A few days ago in Vancouver, I heard David Gergen, the famous CNN political analyst talk about what is happening in the US with the new Obama administration. He said among Obama’s important qualities are his centredness, his calmness and his curiosity – he is always seeking to learn more about what he doesn’t know. Annd as Gregen believes, Obama is going to be one of the great leaders of our time .

So be annoying at times, continue to inquire and fear not to question.

Courage- well you have already exhibited courage by entering into the learning environment here at Royal Roads – taking the risks involved in pursing advanced education.

Now by courage, I am not talking about recklessness – go bungy jumping if you want - what I am talking about , as in words of Robert Frost, is to be willing to “take the road less travelled” Be willing to get out of your comfort zone, take risks and stand up for what you believe.

Or as another great poet , Robert Browning said – “ Ah but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a Heaven for” –attempt what might be seen as the impossible, don’t settle just for what is easily attainable.

Hopefully courage will enable you to become involved in the big issues of our time, social justice, environmental sustainability, global peace.

Connections- There are two aspects to this – connections between peoples and connections of knowledge.

One of my frustrations even in university myself is that we organize our learning into such narrow silos – mathematics, history, biology and all their subsets – important for the pursuit of specific pieces of knowledge – but real knowledge comes from connecting the dots and realizing the interconnectedness of the knowledge, enabling us to aspire to wisdom. That is why I also congratulate Royal Roads for encouraging this approach to learning and for introducing Interdisciplinary Studies – a great step forward!

It is when we recognize the interrelationships between history, religion and culture that we can even being to understand the cumulative impact and why people believe and behave as they do. Only with such unified knowledge can we, for example, imagine how conflicts might be resolved – whether they be within our domestic or international spheres.

Another example from my own field of work - “ health”- it is not the sole territory of physicians or other health care workers. We will only have healthy individuals and a healthy society when we address the underlying causes which contribute to whether you will be healthy or not - poverty, education, early childhood experiences, food supply and our physical environment. Everything is connected and it requires a holistic approach to dealing with problems if we are going to find the most appropriate and effective solutions.

In the other context of connections – Poet John Donne expressed it so well “ no man is an island entire of itself- any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind”

We are all connected to each other, with the potential even more so now with social media. We need to support and embrace these connections. Human beings do not thrive when isolated from others – so again connectedness of knowledge, connectedness of ourselves to others will be key to happiness and fulfillment in your lives

And finally – Commitment

As successful graduates you enter into a privileged group in our society. I urge you all to pursue not only your own chosen vocation, but also to develop passion and commitment for the improvement of your communities and society.

We know our society will only be great if each of us is willing to do more than grumble and complain, if we are all prepared to put our time, our intellect, our passion, to work for the betterment of our neighbourhoods, our communities, our country, and our global society.

So whether it is mentoring a teenager from a disadvantaged background, raising funds to help the homeless or those impacted by natural disasters at home or abroad, strengthening your community, whether it is to advocate for a greener environment or a fairer society , your lives will be truly enriched if you make a commitment to being part of a larger cause, if you are persistent in that commitment. You will truly be rewarded, not by money but by the satisfaction that comes when you give of yourself to causes greater than yourself.

So - feed your curiosity, garner your courage, strengthen your connections, commit your time and intellect to worthy goals.

Each of you will do it in your own way, there is not one recipe, but collectively I hope we can count on you . You are the next generation who will hold the reins of power and influence in the decades to come. It will be your responsibility to help make our society an even better and fairer place for all, and by your example, to advance peace and justice for individuals and societies throughout the world.

Congratulations – and good luck.