On "intention and possibility": Read President Florizone's convocation address

- May 29, 2014

President Florizone at convocation. (Danny Abriel photo)
President Florizone at convocation. (Danny Abriel photo)

Like many others who play a prominent role in Dalhousie convocation, it's been a busy couple of weeks for President Richard Florizone. He's shaken hands with each graduate crossing the stage and shared words of advice and guidance with audiences at 16 different ceremonies.

Below is the text of Dr. Florizone's speech to the Class of 2014.


Good morning, Chancellor Fountain. Members of our academic procession. Parents and family members. Honoured guests.

And most importantly, graduates: Congratulations to each and every one of you. Today marks a great achievement for you, the culmination of your hard work. As we all know, nobody does anything alone, so as you celebrate, take the time to thank those who have helped you along the way: your parents, professors, peers and others who made your journey easier and more enjoyable along the way.

Today, you join the ranks of more than 120,000 Dal alumni around the world.  It’s a very impressive and successful family.   As you sit here today, with your friends and family all around you, no doubt you are thinking about your future, about your own hopes and dreams, and about your own future success.

What does it take to be successful?  What does it take for an organization, a team, or an individual to be successful?  There is certainly no guaranteed recipe, and you should be skeptical of anyone who offers one.  

Yet I would submit to you that success requires two things: intention and possibility. What I mean by that is that success requires both our deliberate intentions, our plans, and the opportunities, the possibilities that open up along the way.  

I’d like to explore both of these ideas — intention and possibility — with you today.

First, intention. Let me tell you a story about my friend Ken. Ken is a real estate developer and takes an active hand in the construction of his buildings. Ken and I were going for lunch one day and he pulled a tape measure out of his pocket and extended it to about 85 inches. He paused and looked at me. “You know Richard, the average life expectancy for a man is 85.” He pointed to a number close to the end of the tape. “I’m right about here,” (Ken is about 70). He then pointed to a mark a little past the middle of the tape. “And you’re about there,” he said.“Makes you think, doesn’t it?” he asked.

Now, many of you graduating today are perhaps a quarter of the way along on that tape measure. But it does make you think, doesn’t it?

How will your tape unfurl? Do you have a plan for how you would like it to extend? Because to make the most of that tape, you need to be deliberate: to have an intention for the way you want to live your life, for the direction you want to head from here. What values and beliefs will your path be built upon? What needs do you see around you? What contribution do you want to make to the world as you move ahead, year by year?

But intention isn’t the full story, is it? We can and should be guided by our values and our plans, but we cannot control everything. We don’t know for certain how that tape will unfurl. So while we must look ahead with intention, we also need to be open to possibility.

Think about the people that you admire, the people who have achieved success, and I’ll bet you that their life stories reveal a mixture of intention and possibility.

The world lost Nelson Mandela this year, a great leader who inspired billions around the world. His life embodied intention and possibility. He had the highest commitment to his values, the values of justice and equality, and later to peace and forgiveness. Those values formed the bedrock of his intention.

Could he have imagined that he would one day be president of South Africa and lead his country out of apartheid? He answered that question in his autobiography The Long Walk to Freedom, where he said: "I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances."

I would put it this way: he became a leader because that possibility opened up before him. But he was ready to lead because his intentions — his commitment to justice and equality — prepared him for that possibility.

Let me offer a couple examples from my own life.  

First, from my career. I started my undergraduate studies in Engineering. My interests and intentions drew me to physics and graduate work at MIT, where my PhD in nuclear physics focused on the inner workings of the atom.  

But as I progressed, studying the interactions inside the atom, I realized I was at least as interested in the interactions between people, leading me towards a career in management and administration

I was guided by my passions — but I remained open to possibilities that opened up new paths along the way. I didn’t set out to become a university president — but the combination of intent and possibility led me here.  

On a more personal note, both intention and possibility came into play in my relationship with my wife. Initially, we were part of the same circle of friends, we had similar interests and values, similar intentions.

But we fell out of touch for a couple of years. Then, a week before I was to move to another country, we had a chance meeting in an elevator: possibility opened a door — an elevator door in this case — and we rekindled our relationship and the rest as they say, is history.

Intention, possibility, and success.

As you prepare for the next stage of your life, here is my wish for each of you: That you will be deliberate in pursuing your intentions—but that you will also be open to life’s surprising, delightful and sometimes challenging possibilities.

Ground your decisions in your values. Think about your future and plan for it. Be intentional.

But at the same time — and just as importantly — open your heart and mind to the possibilities in the world. Wonderful things will emerge that you can’t imagine, even with the best planning. Some of the greatest things in your life — professional achievements, personal relationships, intellectual and spiritual growth — will come from chance encounters, from deviating from your plan, from putting yourself in new and yes, sometimes uncomfortable circumstances.

Intention and possibility. Equip yourself to make the most of both, and as your tape measure unfurls, you will be able to look back with satisfaction — and look forward with anticipation.

Enjoy today. Celebrate your achievement. Thank the people who helped you get here. And look ahead to a path paved with intention and rich with possibility.

I wish you every success and happiness.


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