What it's all about

- June 5, 2006

Faculty of Engineering Graduates

Dr. Richard Goldbloom has met a lot of people over the past two weeks, so perhaps he can beĀ  forgiven if he can't recall everyone's name.

As chancellor of Dalhousie University, Dr. Goldbloom greeted more than 3,000 graduates during 13 convocation ceremonies. As he 'capped' students receiving undergraduate degrees - that's when he taps their heads lightly with a mortar board - and shook hands with everyone else, Dr. Goldbloom made it a point to speak with each and every graduate.

It's personal touch so appreciated in the midst of all the pomp and pageantry - Registrar Asa Kachan leading the academic procession by bearing the mace, carved of oak and sparkling with silver medallions; the black gowns and satin hoods worn by the graduates; and the Rebecca Cohn stage adorned with Dalhousie's fierce-looking coat-of-arms - the familiar eagle surrounded by red dragons topped with a blue unicorn.

"The students are the centre of it all," says Dr. Goldbloom.

"They deserve their time in the sun. They've worked hard to get to this point. At Dal, you see a lot of young people who may be the first in their family to go through university and some of their families have traveled a very long distance to be here. So it's not something I want to pass by them in a second."

No doubt anyone who took in one of those 13 ceremonies is curious to know what exactly he says. And no wonder. After Dr. Goldbloom exchanges a few words with the grads, they're beaming as they finish their trip across the stage to accept their diplomas and pose for a photo with the Registrar.

"I take note of their full name. I pay attention to where they're from. I make connections - I may know their hometown or their relatives. I ask what their plans are. If they don't leave smiling, I feel I've done something wrong."

Words of Wisdom

Convocation ceremonies are celebratory, but they should also inspire. Here's what a few of the honorary-degree recipients told assembled graduates:

  • Mary Lou Finlay, the familiar husky voice of CBC's As It Happens, urged arts and social sciences graduates to keep asking questions and to develop critical thought. "It takes courage to poke your head up and say, 'What if?' - You have the opportunity with your fresh minds to stick your noses in and ask, 'Why?' 'Why not try something else?'"
  • Stephen Lewis, the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for HIV AIDS in Africa, related the terrible toll of the pandemic: millions dead, life expectancy pegged at age 32, and a generation of traumatized, orphaned children. He urged graduates in the health professions to consider spending time in developing countries. "Canada needs you, but the world also needs you."
  • Engineer Jack Flemming, the founder of Ocean Contractors Ltd., is known for his business acumen, but also for his generosity. "Give and you shall receive," he said, encouraging engineering graduates to help people who are less fortunate. "Get involved. Volunteer. Run for political office. Do charity work. Talk to young people about your career path. Don't just sit there."

He delights in the unexpected. Like when it was announced that Avrum Israel Goldberg, who picked up the University Medal in Dentistry, was also a certified magician. Goldbloom pulled a looney out of his elegant black-and-gold robes and told him to make it disappear. He did, even before the words were out of Dr. Goldbloom's mouth, and then turned around and did the trick for the audience.

Or, when he asked another student what her plans were after graduation, only to be informed, "Are you kidding? I just got out of bed."

In his speech to nursing and social-work graduates, human-rights advocate Stephen Lewis said he was deeply touched by Dalhousie's convocation ceremony.

Accepting his 23rd honorary degree at Dalhousie, Mr. Lewis took note of the Dalhousie difference: University President Tom Traves delivered a thought-provoking speech with "definite substance instead of the usual celestial vacuity," he said, then adding "and I've never been at a convocation ceremony where the chancellor was so deeply engaged with every graduate."

Lewis related the story of one graduate who stopped in her tracks before Dr. Goldbloom and exclaimed, "You are so beautiful!"

"That did catch me off guard," acknowledges Dr. Goldbloom with a chuckle. "I didn't have an answer for that one."


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