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Governor General Adrienne Clarkson Receives Honorary Doctorate at Glendon Convocation


Her Excellency, the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada was the recipient of a degree of Doctor of Law honoris causa, on June 21st, 2003 at Glendon’s spring Convocation.

Dressed in a scarlet academic gown with a purple border and matching cap, the Queen’s representative in Canada joined the academic procession on a beautiful early summer day amid the flowering gardens of Glendon. Everything spoke of the grandeur of this event, which marks the successful completion of years of study for the students: a ritual announcing their move into the world of work and the society at large.

Glendon convocations have a sense of occasion. They include Latin texts, rituals, elegant academic gowns, literary pieces and ceremonial music. In accordance with tradition, Chancellor Avie Bennett, York President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna Marsden and other important members of the York community were active participants, taking part in the academic procession and speaking to the assembled audience.

The presence of the Governor General represented much more than a grand gesture, a mere formality. In his introduction, Glendon’s Principal, Dr. Kenneth McRoberts spoke of Adrienne Clarkson’s many accomplishments. A refugee with her family from Hong Kong during the war in 1942, Madame Clarkson received her early education in the Ottawa public school system and later obtained an Honours B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto, before going on to post-graduate work at the Sorbonne. She is fluently bilingual and has had a distinguished career in broadcasting, journalism, the arts and public service. She has written three novels and, in the late 1980s, was the President and Publisher of McClelland & Stewart. She has been the host of such outstanding CBC programs as Take Thirty, the fifth estate and Adrienne At Large. She has been a spokesperson for women’s rights and the immigrant experience. She is the first immigrant and second woman to have been chosen as Governor General. Principal McRoberts expressed his conviction that Madame Clarkson is the perfect representative of Glendon’s ideals by her dedication to bilingualism and education.

Speaking in English and in beautiful French, the Governor General explored the great expansion of universities in Canada during the 1960s. This led to the creation of York University on the Glendon estate and later, when York was established at the Keele campus, to the official opening of Glendon College in 1966 by then Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, a friend and supporter of Escott Reid, Glendon’s first Principal. It was Principal Reid’s vision that Glendon must be a bilingual place of learning, recognizing that the future of Canada depended on public leaders who were able to communicate in both official languages. Adrienne Clarkson, who knows Escott Reid’s son, Timothy (present at this Convocation) from her student days, expressed her gratitude for having had the opportunity to be personally acquainted with his father and thus learn much about education.

“Learning languages is a way of entering the world of others”, said Madame Clarkson in her address. “…..[It] means understanding what is in the heart of others”. She gave recognition to Principal Kenneth McRoberts’ deep understanding of the importance of this and of his lifelong devotion to promoting and living bilingualism in Canada, and for the past 4 years specifically at Glendon.

Ardent promoters of language learning, the Governor General and her husband, prominent author His Excellency John Ralston Saul were the originators of the French for the Future/Franšais pour l’avenir conference, bringing together French immersion and francophone students across Canada. This cross-country forum was based at Glendon College in 2003 and will be there again in 2004. Using video satellite technology, students in twelve different cities from Vancouver to St. John’s are linked together, enabling them to share their experiences and thoughts on being bilingual in today’s society.

Madame Clarkson said that we, Canadians have learned to accept immigration from so many places in the world precisely because we were already familiar with complexity and diversity within our own country. “Using two languages allows you to live your life in two cultures. Glendon graduates are well-prepared for life with this duality”, she said. She stated that Canada is a model of bilingualism and multiculturalism in the world and that the key to this environment is a solid public education system. And, she added, “if we don’t have this, future generations will pay the price.”

In a moving declaration of what it means to her to be a Canadian, Adrienne Clarkson stated that as an immigrant, she has adopted the whole history of this country: the ancestors quoted in the French text of the national anthem are her ancestors, going back to the First Nations and that she identifies with every aspect of its history. “Our Canadian values dictate that all immigrants of every background be part of the Canadian family. New graduates have this in common with new immigrants: that both are searching to find their place in a new society”.

In closing, the Governor General encouraged the new graduates to embrace their country, take on their responsibilities as citizens, to try to experience the reality of others. Principal McRoberts thanked Madame Clarkson for her vigorous defence of bilingualism and of the founding principles of Glendon. As the new graduates received their diplomas, these eloquent words and important ideas were in the hearts and minds of everyone present.

Article submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny

Published on March 9, 2007