Convocation Address to Cape Breton University

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Remarks by the Clerk of the Privy Council
And Secretary to the Cabinet

Fall 2007 Convocation Address to the University of Cape Breton

November 3, 2007
Sydney, Nova Scotia


Madame Chancellor, President Harker, members of the senate, faculty, students, parents, ladies and gentlemen, it is an honour and a privilege to be with you today. And, I would add, as a native Cape Bretoner, being asked to deliver this convocation address is especially meaningful to me.

The sense of belonging - of being connected to ones roots and others from this region - is very much part of our identity as Cape Bretoners. Each of us, who call Cape Breton home, shares a powerful and enduring bond. It stays with us no matter where our careers and lives might take us.

But it goes much deeper than merely the inevitable nostalgia that comes with a return to our roots. The chance to be here, at Cape Breton University, a young institution with a growing reputation for academic excellence and developing linkages to other universities in Canada and to students from around the world, carries much greater significance.

It demonstrates the recognition that education is key to a better future for ourselves, our community and our nation. The fact this campus was established stands as a commitment to that better future. It reflects an indisputable truth, and that is to succeed in this competitive world, knowledge is the most important comparative advantage we can have.

We live in a world of profoundly globalized markets, where intense competition, instantaneous communications and the revolution in information technology have fundamentally changed the economic challenges we face, and the opportunities open to us.

But Cape Bretoners inherently know this. Whether it was fish to trade within the British Empire, or coal and then steel to fuel the industrial Canada that emerged from the world wars, we understood that our prosperity lay in adapting to the changing world well beyond the island's shores.

I am certain no one knows and understands this better than your chancellor, Annette Verschuren. As the president of Home Depot Canada, Annette is at the forefront of an international company that is truly global in both its reach and its integration into the world economy. And another Cape Bretoner, Dr. Art MacDonald who had the confidence, indeed audacity, to dream that Canada could lead the world in abstract physics, and now heads the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, a world leading physics laboratory.

One of the best descriptions of how the world economy has changed and its impact on all of us, comes from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, author of "The Lexus and the Olive Tree". Friedman argues the world is "flat". That the economic playing fields between industrial and emerging market countries have been leveled. That information technology makes distance virtually redundant. And, that supply chains are no longer local or national but global, with most companies accessing cheap labour offshore, in countries like India and China.

So how do we compete? The answer is innovation and a highly qualified workforce. For nations like ours to succeed in the world of today requires having people with the skills that come with advanced education.

Today, more than ever, economic and social progress is driven by innovation. And the fuel of innovation is new ideas, which are the essence of excellence in education and research that expand the boundaries of human knowledge.

Bill Gates, the founder and chairman of Microsoft clearly acknowledges the power of innovation and competition to change the future: "Microsoft is never more than two years away from failure".

It goes without saying, therefore, that as university graduates, you are entering a world that values and demands the human capital that comes with enhanced educational skills.

While we live at a time of great change, and hence much incertainty, it is a world that offers incredible opportunity, especially for graduates like yourselves. Your future is limited only by the horizons you set for yourself.

Let me offer some advice to you, as someone who shares your Cape Breton heritage.

First, be ambitious. Do not ever feel that your horizons are constrained by where you come from or by what others might have done. There is incredible opportunity in the world if you have the audacity to reach for it, to challenge yourself, and to believe in your abilities.

Second, be clear about your objectives. Understand what it will take to achieve them; be realistic, but do not create artificial limits for yourself. You come from hardy stock that has taken on the world and won over many generations.

Third, strive for excellence. Not just in your careers, but in all dimensions of your life. The most successful people are usually those who strive to be the best they can be in whatever they do. Hard work, enthusiasm, commitment and caring about your colleagues are the surest routes to a successful career and a full and rewarding life.

Fourth, be innovative. We all confront obstacles at times in our careers and lives. Do not be deterred by the challenges, see them as opportunities for growth. By being innovative thinkers, you will broaden your horizons and your lives.

And fifth, commit yourself to make a difference. Make a difference in your professional life. Make a difference in your community. Make a difference to your fellow Canadians. Commit yourself to a life and a future that will have a positive impact. A life that will be not only rewarding, but fulfilling in that it makes a difference for those around you, your nation and the world. You may want to consider making such a difference through a career in the public service.

When I think back to my graduation from Sydney Academy in 1968, I remember looking ahead with a blend of excitement and apprehension. Would I be able to compete at a graduate school elsewhere in Canada and abroad? Where would I find my first job? It is was a natural emotion, and one that I am certain many of you share today as you begin writing a new chapter in your life.

I urge you all, today, to make a commitment to yourself that you will embrace the future with the same kind of dedication, enthusiasm and purpose that has brought you to this convocation today. If you do, I am confident that you will realize your dreams and help build a better world for us all.

My congratulations to you today, the Fall 2007 graduates of Cape Breton University, and best wishes in the years ahead.

I know you will make that difference!

Thank you.