Cape Breton University Convocation Address

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I was very honoured to address the graduating class at the Cape Breton University 2014 Fall Convocation after being presented with an honorary Doctor of Letters degree. Here are my remarks. (They begin at 1:34:14)


Here is the full text of my remarks. I ad-libbed some lines throughout.

Miigwech Nidede
Miigwech Nimaamaa

May dowel oo Dee oq

Neen deluweesi Wab Kinew

Will dah see biggiisin. La wool log

Da Ho

I’m honoured to be invited to this event and to be welcomed on Mi’kmak land
To Unamaki
To Nova Scotia
And to be honoured by Cape Breton University

This week our country has been shaken by acts of violence.

It has also been inspired by several acts of courage.
I wanted to begin my remarks by paying tribute to our brother
Corporal Nathan Cirillo…

The great Shawnee Chief Tecumseh once said….
“Live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.
Love your life, perfect your life,
Beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and
Its purpose in the service of your people.”

What we know of Corporal Cirillo,
that he was a loving Father
that he liked to exercise and live his life to the fullest
that he always dreamed of serving this country…
We know that he did live up to the challenge given by Tecumseh
And that as a result when he did leave us
he likely did not do so in fear…
but rather in the words of Tecumseh… left… “as a hero going home”

Acts of violence like this,
acts of terror
Examples man’s inhumanity to man
can be scary
They can be angering
They can drive us towards hate.

But we must not rest with these initial emotions…
No.
We ought to push further and search the better side of our humanity….

That side of us
which reassured Corporal Cirillo in his final moments
and told him that he was so loved

That side of us, embodied by Sargent at Arms Kevin Vickers, who no doubt felt fear
But found the courage to overcome it and went out into that hallway to fulfill his duty

That side of us that sees a Mosque in Cold Lake, Alberta defaced with the words “Go Home”… and responds with acts of neighbourly love
covering up the graffiti with posters reading “you are home”

This country is true
it is strong
and it is free.

There are likely many other things you’re worrying about right now too.

You’re probably worrying about jobs.
You’re probably worrying about student debt.
A good many of you are probably worrying where your friends are going later on tonight.

And that’s ok. It’s ok not to have the answers.
Both when it comes to the little things,
but also the big things as well.

They say the one constant in life is change
Learning how to manage that change –
To surf a top the never ending flux that is life –
is one of the great untaught skills you will have to learn to master.

You know, one of my elders once told me
People often get a worse outcome because they rush for the sure thing
They rush for the sure thing because they are uncomfortable with uncertainty

But if you can learn to ride that uncertainty
and wait for the best possible outcome
That’s when the really big wins happen.

That’s what that elder told me.

That elder’s name was Jim Balsillie,
Co-founder of Blackberry.

So how do we ride this flux?
Well, here are a few basic principles
we should all hang on to…
Even if everything else seems uncertain.

We are all related.
We should treat everyone like your brother or sister.

Unless they’re your Boyfriend or Girlfriend.
Then that would be weird.

Respect your elders.
Respect Mom.
Respect Dad.
Just don’t add them on Facebook.
Actually you know what go ahead and add them on Facebook.
You’re probably spending more time on Instagram and Snapchat anyway

Seriously tho, spend time with mom and dad, grandma and grandpa while you can.
One day you will find yourself telling your kids the exact same things they told you,
and you’ll love your parents and grandparents in a whole new way.

You’ve probably learned a lot of big new words in University…
Words like Perspicacity
Verisimilitude
Sagacious

I’ve got good news. You can forget those words now.

A few other words you should probably also forget…
Selfie
Yolo
And “I can’t even”

Know the history of where you’re from

Membertou for instance was the name of a great Mi’kmak grand chief from four centuries ago
It is said he lived to be a hundred
He was a giant among men
He stood for a vision of sharing the land with the newcomers

That vision is embodied in the Peace and friendship treaties which cover much of Atlantic Canada.

Set your sights high
Challenge yourself to be great
Challenge yourself to be the next Membertou
Someone whose name is spoken again and again down through the generations…

Yes, set your sights high,
But forgive yourself if you don’t always succeed…

Some would have us look at these losses
or look at incidents like those in Ottawa this week and have us despair
These voices tell us that it is a cold, cold world
That bad things happen to good people,
nice guys finish last and there’s a sucker born every minute.

But I’m here to tell you that that view is a trap.

When you are done wrong
You ought to respond with love
Grace
And kindness

I want to tell you about my late father.
When he was a boy he was taken from his parents and put in a government funded Residential School where he was abused,
in fact he was even experimented on…

This happened in our country, within living memory.

Yet by the end of his life,
He adopted an Archbishop as his brother
He reconnected with his traditional spirituality
and he heard the POPE tell him face to face that he was saddened by what he had to endure as a boy.

This is the lesson residential school survivors have to offer our country
From Port Alberni on the west
To Shubenacaddie here in the east
They had the combined force of the federal government and five churches levied against them when they were just little boys and girls
But they did not break
Instead these little heroes waited with quiet dignity
they waited for decades
they waited
For the churches to change
For the government to change
for the whole country to change
To say we were wrong
You were always okay

We are sorry.

And after all that many residential school survivors simply smiled and said we forgive you

That’s a powerful lesson, and not just a lesson on Aboriginal issues

It’s a lesson that
The world CAN change
This country has changed.

No matter what the odds seem
No matter how hopeless the situation
Change is possible

Who would have ever thought that little boy being taken from his family on Lake of the Woods simply because they were Indian
Would one day grow up to see the Head of the Roman Catholic Church holding an eagle feather, expressing remorse?

It may take years
It may take a lifetime
It may even take generations
But eventually…
Goodness does prevail
Our humanity does carry the day

So be a good person
It IS worth it
You CAN make a difference
It is the RIGHT thing to do

It is possible to tackle the great issues of our time:
the environment,
income inequality,
terrorism,
disease.
You are capable of the courage needed to solve these challenges.

And of course there’s also what comes next

For if you have lived your life in a good way
There will be nothing but peace in your heart
And love from those around you.

So that when you do come to the end of your life,
That love they have for you
Will remain here
In this world
Even after you are gone

The people who teach us these lessons,
Let’s keep their names in our hearts and in our minds
let us help them live on, here with us in this world

Whether it’s Chief Membertou

Residential School survivors like my father Tobasonakwut Kinew

or Corporal Nathan Cirillo…

Let us remember their names.
Let’s keep them here with us.

brothers and sisters
Aunts uncles
Mom
Wife
Sons
Eat well
Get some sleep
Be kind to those around you

You have worked so hard to get to where you are here today

Enjoy this moment. It will never come again.

Savour the time that is now

And prepare for the next step on this amazing journey called life

Miigwech, Merci beaucoup, Welali’ok

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