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General Roméo Dallaire inspires Dal grads to shape, not survive, the future

Urges students to advance the cause of humanity

- October 5, 2012

General Dallaire speaking at Convocation. (Danny Abriel photo)
General Dallaire speaking at Convocation. (Danny Abriel photo)

“As a retired general and apprentice politician, brevity is not my strength,” Lieutenant-General The Honourable Roméo Dallaire told Dal graduates assembled in the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium on Wednesday afternoon.

In fact, General Dallaire’s address, which followed the receipt of his honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Dal, wasn’t all that long, but the sharp power of his words was electrifying.

He was introduced by Lloyd Fraser, chair of the Dalhousie Senate, with a look at his remarkable past: heroic warnings, unheeded, about the genocide in Rwanda that claimed 800,000 lives; advocacy on behalf of post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers; leading the cause against the use of child soldiers and his founding of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, hosted here at Dal; harrowing, award-winning books about his experiences; Canadian senator; too many awards to reasonably list.

Leadership for the future

But rather than discuss his inspiring, heroic life story, Dallaire looked to the future in his speech, addressing the hopes, aspirations and potential of the graduating class seated in front of him – as he put it, “the newest members of the leadership strata of this incredible nation of ours.”

He threw out the year 2017 as an example: a year which will mark not only the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation, but also the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, one of the defining moments in the nation’s history.

“What’s the plan?” he asked. “What are we going to culminate in 2017 that is going to rally the incredible potential of this country and move us beyond that date? . . . What strategic guidance are we providing you, who are entering that leadership role, in order that you can focus the extraordinary energy and potential of this nation?”

He’s concerned that there’s a lack of vision in celebrating and defining Canada for the future.

“Leadership is not surviving the future. It’s not surviving the environmental changes. It’s not surviving the plight of conflict and . . . massive abuses of human rights, of letting nations implode and go into catastrophic failure. That is not the future. That is not shaping it.”

The credibility of dirty boots

General Dallaire argued that this generation’s ability to shape the future may be greater than any before it, as a “a generation without borders.” He discussed how the revolution in communications technology offers an extraordinary moment for this generation to coalesce political and social movements and shift global discussion around issues such as poverty, war and genocide.

And the best way to start leading that charge, General Dallaire said, was for students to look outwards, and to get their boots dirty in the world around them.

“The rite of passage in this country, after the undergrad degree, or maybe after high school, [should be] that you have underneath your bed a pair of boots that have been soiled in the earth of a country that is trying to pull itself into the era that we are in . . . So that you see, feel, hear, taste, touch what is happening to 80 per cent of humanity, and that you bring that passion back in your eyes. And with the credibility of those dirty boots, you change our perspective of who we are: not being local, or provincial, or even national, but being internationalists of our era of revolution where there are no more borders.”

Learn more about Dal’s honorary degree recipients at Fall Convocation, and watch General Dallaire’s full remarks below.


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