Addressing the graduating class.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Firstly, I would like to thank Mr. Roumeliotis for inviting me back to Royal Vale in order to address the graduating class of 2007. It is truly an honour for me to be here among friends, both former colleagues and students alike; to once again see the familiar faces of people with whom I spent so many memorable moments but a short time ago.

For many years, I believe that I was one of the few teachers -if not the only one at this school- to address you – the graduating students- as “Boys and Girls.” Now, on this beautiful evening as I glance about this venerable auditorium, the sight of a multitude of previous commencement exercises, I see that that is decidedly no longer the case, that time has worked its magic anew, and that you are all now clearly “young men and young women” – young men and young women on the very thresh-hold of adulthood.

I can only imagine the joy that you must be feeling tonight, along with the pride of your parents and your teachers who have both nourished and supported you during this sometimes awkward but always critical period. Your extended journey through elementary school and high school is now over, while the most exciting and hopefully productive years of your life lie open before you.

One of the most important attributes you have acquired from the time you passed in this half-century old building is undoubtedly the ability to advance and thrive within a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-lingual community. During the ten years years I spent at Royal Vale, I frequently, and happily, observed the diversity in friendships that developed among you, both within and without the classroom. Cultural, religious, and racial considerations were seemingly (and rightfully) swept aside in your search for involvement and companionship within this educational facility. I am pleased to say (and I am sure that your parents are inclined to agree) that you are among the least prejudiced and most tolerant students I taught in the course of my rather lengthy career in education.

Take that quality of acceptance with you, live it, build upon it, share it with others, and this much-troubled planet will be a better place for it.

We are facing a world of overwhelming challenges that will test the breadth of your learning and the depth of your compassion. From global warming to the HIV / AIDS pandemic, from the social and economic disparities which exist throughout the world, you may have surely noticed that our planet earth and our human species are struggling, perhaps more than ever in this but the early years of the twenty-first century.

Royal Vale Graduates of 2007: All of us in this auditorium, on this providential night, are appealing to you to help fashion a better world, a world in which there is both peace and justice, not just for the fortunate few, but for all of mankind. We are favoured to live in this amazing and beautiful country called Canada, the land in which our families, either recently or decades ago, chose to settle. The vast majority of us have flourished within the framework of this nation’s bounteous social, economic, and political freedoms to which we now have become so accustomed….. to the point of taking them for granted.

Ours is a unique inheritance, however……….. and it comes with responsibilities- the responsibility to remember that it was not always so, that we did not always live in a society of great abundance and, to all intents and purposes, unlimited licence; the duty to remember that all of our material good fortune contrasts starkly with the plight of so many people throughout the rest of the world, and even some within our own country; the obligation to remember that all of the world’s eminent religions teach us that we should care about the difficulties of our fellow man and help wherever and whenever we can.

For, in fact, human life on this planet earth, both so fragile and fleeting, is a composite of cultures and customs, of languages and religions. No one individual (and certainly no one nation, including our own) has a monopoly on veracity and morality.

The great English novelist Joseph Conrad wrote: “I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back – the feeling that I could last forever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men.” End of quotation

Tonight, as you leave this building for perhaps the last time, you will close this enchanting, youthful and precious chapter of your life only to open yet another. In the years ahead, as you travel the world and come upon other Montrealers, you will ask one another not necessarily from where in this splendid city you hail, but rather what high school you attended. Such is the magic of the high school years that their compelling memories remain embedded in the human spirit for the longest time.

I would like to conclude with this thought: A few years ago, you read a play in which one of the characters spoke these entrancing words about her beloved, and I quote: “When he shall die, take him, and cut him into little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all will fall in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun.” End of quotation.

Royal Vale Graduates of 2007: Travel the world, engage your fellow man, write poetry, compose music, enjoy your youth, dream dreams, dream of things that never were and ask “why not,” bring happiness and honour to yourselves and others, and by so doing you too will make fine the face of heaven, as well as that of earth.

Waiting my turn……….