On receiving the degree of Honorary Doctorate of Education (honoris causa)
“Mr. Chancellor, Mr. President, Honored Platform Guests, Members of the Board of Governors, Members of the Academic Senate, staff, students, graduates and all family friends and special guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen…”
So … I have become ‘that’ person. In 1992, while graduating from the University of Ottawa, I was sitting amongst my friends and peers and wondering exactly why someone would even be standing there, addressing us without knowing who we were and what path we had chosen to pursue. I was young, eager to begin my life and had no idea that more than 25 years later, this honor to address the graduating class would become mine. When I received the news from Dr. DeGagné that I had been chosen to receive an Honour Doctorate in Education from this incredible institution, I was stunned and so incredibly honored. Truth be told, I ‘fell’ into the education field, quite by accident. You see, I had dreamt of becoming a concert pianist and traveling the world since I had been six years old – yet life had other plans and would have me visit a whole different journey. In my final year of high schooI, I met someone incredible, we fell in love, and after I had completed my Honours Degree, we got married. ( and yes – we are still very much together…. should you be wondering ) Education was always so very far from my reality – yet I entered Teacher’s College in case – one after all, never knows what life brings and becoming a teacher seemed, at the time, like a great backup plan …. It is after the birth of my son Alex that my new path started taking shape. Only then did I realize that life’s music notes would be performed and heard in a different Opus than the one for which I had rehearsed for so many years.
Well … Life is full of surprises … My first-born son blessed our family and our community with the gift of autism. Myself an individual on the same spectrum, I learned to appreciate the hard work that it takes to do simple things, like holding a spoon or tying a shoe. I discovered that patience is critical in many instances, that humor is required to navigate through awkward moments and that people are most often doing the best that they can, with what they know, at that very moment. Alex taught me resilience. He opened up my eyes when it came to different types of learning. He also became the one who taught me how to listen to every person that I meet: effective communication is reached not only through a person’s words but can very often be heard through actions. You can get to know and understand a person by merely glancing into their eyes ( powerful stuff here ! ).
A few years later, my youngest son Marc-André was born. He taught me to stop, to wait, and to listen for cues. Too often rushed to get things done, I learned that often we need to slow down and enjoy the moments, cherishing each success as small as they may be. It’s how great buildings are constructed – and it’s how the human heart functions. I heed by my children’s wisdom, doing my personal best that I can, no matter where I may find myself. Every day is an occasion to start fresh – and as educators – it is our honor and privilege to remind those amongst us that this is the case. True – there are times that academics ARE at the center of our attention – yet at the end of the day, how we choose to interact with those in our intimate circles will be what truly matters.
We say that life happens while you’re having fun. I now find myself with almost a quarter of a century of teaching experience. I’ve had the privilege to serve on provincial boards, to speak in provincial and national media about various topics, and I’ve even become an author. I’ve made it – in the eyes of many. Life has been excellent – to see the least – but it all came to be because of someone unexpected appearing in my life – my beautiful children – who became two of my most exceptional educators. Sometimes, as teachers, we must first become students.
In life – we all have dreams and plans which we strive to accomplish, but, had I listened to some honest advice from people who were there, doing that? – I perhaps would have checked off a few more boxes off my famous bucket list. Today, I’ve summarized the most important ones which, I hope, could help you along your future journeys ( if you’re listening … ) Here they are:
1 – Life is about connections. Live. Laugh and Love. Talk to people and get to know ‘them’… ‘what’ they do will follow later –
2- Become the helper. As educators, we are often at the forefront of many events in our student’s lives. If you cannot find help for whatever situation they may find themselves in …. Stop what you’re doing … and as Alex taught me: Observe, wait, and listen. Sometimes, people will require you to be present. Words are often not what is needed at that very moment. Your presence is. It’s simple. It’s effective. And it saves lives.
3 – See with your heart. The greatest treasures will not always be evident. People often are scared to show their true selves. Allow yourselves to feel … and to be touched by what individuals around you carry within themselves. Not only will you be helping them to become true to their essence, but you may also discover hidden parts of your selves which you could not have noticed were it not for them.
4- Finally, always remember this: The days are long but the years are short. Don’t get too caught up in your life, running around every single minute to accomplish tasks which will seem meaningless in 20 years from now. Allow yourself the time to be the most excellent person that you can be, in all aspects. Yes – exceed in your professional endeavors but also remember to spend time with your family and friends. Remember to make time to remain true to yourself: don’t forget what you love to do most …. And allow yourself the exquisite time to enjoy whatever that may be – often. Life happens quickly – and in an instant, you find yourself at the junction of retirement. Enjoy every moment and every day – Stop and tell the ones around you that they matter …
Thank you again for this incredible honor – and enjoy this grand celebration of all of your accomplishments.
Now, as my Father always says, please repeat after me: It’s a beautiful day!