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Comment: Yes, it is our time to build a better world

A commentary by the president and vice-chancellor of Royal Roads University.
IMG_2330_Spring 2022 Convocation
Students celebrate during convocation ceremonies at Royal Roads University. SUBMITTED

It is convocation season in Canada — that wonderful time of year when we join together to celebrate graduates at our high schools, colleges and universities. And for the first time since this pandemic began, many of us are gathering in person.

That’s a welcome sign of hope — at a time when signs of hope often seem so very rare.

Climate-related catastrophes, public-health emergencies, economic turmoil, conflict, war and a renewed threat of famine contribute to feelings of gloom and doom. The headlines of the day often seem dire. To be honest, they are dire.

Any one of these threats and dangers might define a generation. They have converged to become, in the words of Dr. Thomas Homer-Dixon, a global polycrisis.

Yet there’s a phrase that keeps coming back to me — a favourite of Tommy Douglas, a premier of Saskatchewan last century, and then a leader of the federal NDP.

One of the ways he would often end his speeches was with this phrase, spoken in his warm Scottish burr: “Courage, my friends. ‘Tis never too late to build a better world.”

Bear in mind, this was a man who’d stared into the face of poverty, suffering and oppression. His fieldwork as a graduate student took him into the so-called “hobo” camps in the very depths of the Great Depression. His travels to Europe showed him first-hand the rising menace of Hitler’s brand of fascism.

At home, he buried parishioners who died because they couldn’t afford medical care. And he lived through the peril and uncertainty of the Second World War.

Yet he retained that sense of hope and possibility. The depths of the wrongs he had seen only served to broaden his vision of what could be right.

As premier he brought in sweeping reforms, including one that still defines the best of Canada’s national character: a system that became the model for Canadian medicare.

“ ’Tis never too late to build a better world.” He believed that all his life. And so do I.

I truly believe it’s far from too late to solve the biggest problems that face us. One reason for that hope is all around us: the students crossing stages in small towns and big cities all over this amazing country.

Institutes of higher learning such as Royal Roads University are bringing people together who share that hope. And all of us are bringing the full weight of our knowledge, skills and imagination to bear on addressing problems that range from climate adaptation to renewing civil society.

I have that hope because I’ve seen the work students are doing, and the passion they bring to it. I’ve witnessed the creativity and ingenuity they offer, born of diverse perspectives and fierce determination.

They are ambitious in the very best sense of the word, because their ambition isn’t for themselves alone — it’s for the community and for the world. Even the act of pursuing and achieving a post-secondary credential is a remarkable expression of hope for a better world.

Hope, though, is just a beginning. It’s not an end in and of itself. Hope only has meaning when it spurs us to action. Our graduating students understand that compulsion to act from a place of hope, because it’s what’s brought them to this moment. And I’m deeply proud that in a time of such enormous uncertainty, they have not only persevered but prevailed.

We are living in times of dire challenge and profound uncertainty. But instead of letting that challenge push us down, we rise to it. Instead of letting that uncertainty diminish our dreams, it only expands our sense of what’s possible.

So courage, friends. ’Tis our time to build a better world.