A president on the honour roll

- May 24, 2013

President Traves speaking to King's newest grads. (Kerry Delorey photo)
President Traves speaking to King's newest grads. (Kerry Delorey photo)

For a university president who was once a history professor, it was a welcome opportunity to join a class of new graduates in celebrating a liberal arts education.

Last week, Dal President Tom Traves was one of four recipients of an honorary degree from the University of King’s College. He was joined in the honours by prominent Nova Scotia business leaders Donald R. Sobey, David Wilson and Rose Wilson.

The Encaenia ceremony was held at the Cathedral Church of All Saints in Halifax, following a rainy procession from the King’s campus, through Dal’s Studley Campus and down University Avenue.

In a speech to the graduates, Dr. Traves discussed the origins of the phrase “ivory tower,” which came from King Solomon’s love poem in the Old Testament. Over time, it became a Christian reference to purity and, in turn, a place apart from the world to pursue pure knowledge. While it’s typically a pejorative phrase, at least when it comes to universities, Dr. Traves made a case for protecting the pursuit of knowledge.

“Fundamentally modern universities address two seemingly simple questions: ‘What makes us tick?’ and ‘How does it work?’” said Dr. Traves.

While the second question's domain is largely that of the basic and applied sciences, he explained, the former is the focus of the King’s curriculum, as it is in Dal’s programs in business, law, arts and social sciences.

“This question addresses what we think and feel, how we work and play, and because it suggests the collective ‘us,’ it also asks how we behave together in organizations, how we pursue wealth and power, how we manage crime and punishment and how we govern and regulate ourselves…

“Surely these are important matters,” Dr. Traves continued. “Virtually every pressing global and national challenge we face today falls within these topics of inquiry. But to study them thoughtfully requires social and psychological space. Action generates experience, but deep knowledge and understanding requires reflection and this frequently requires some withdrawal from the hurly-burly of the street to have the time and distance to make sense of things.”

He concluded by celebrating the enormous potential for new graduates to make their mark on the world.

“Stuff happens. None of us can know our future. As you move on from the ivory tower into the bustling street outside, all you can do is follow a few well-worn pieces of advice that we've all heard before, which doesn't make them any less useful. Do things you care about. Work hard, really hard, if you want to be noticed and get ahead. Be open to small opportunities that come your way because you can't tell when or which small things could lead to big things. Where you can, try to serve others; such service is more than a résumé filler. It often brings profound fulfillment and happiness.”


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