Landon Pearson accepts an Honorary Doctorate


[ Applause ]>>By the authority
vested in me by the Senate of York University I hereby
confer on you the Degree of Doctor of Laws honoris
causa admitto te ad gradum. [ Applause ]>>Chancellor McMurtry,
President Shoukri, faculty members, graduates,
families and friends. It is a great honor for me
to receive this recognition for the work I’ve done over
many years for and with children and youth at home and abroad. And I consider it a real
privilege to be able to have been asked to address
a class of graduating students, most of whom will be working
in the professions that many of you I hope will be
working with children. Today is a celebration for you
and a commemoration for me. Exactly 60 years
ago I sat like you in a convocation hall somewhat
to the south of here waiting to receive my diploma. I remember the occasion
well but I have to confess that I have some difficulty
recalling who it was that gave the convocation
address and what he…because in those days it was almost
certainly a he…had to say. So you’ll be certainly forgiven if in 60 years you no longer
remember me or my words but I’m so hopeful that you’ll be
able to profit from some of the lessons I have
learned over my long life and that perhaps one or two
or even more of you will end up in 2071 addressing
another graduating class of young Canadians ready
to set off into a world of as unimaginable to you now as your world was
unimaginable to me in 1951. Let me start by telling you some of the differences
between then and now. Tell you about some of the
differences, they’re fresh in my mind because two
weeks ago I came to Toronto to attend my class reunion. At the celebratory dinner
several of us had been asked to share anecdotes about
our undergraduate years and as one brief presentation
succeeded another I realize that what we were
doing was recreating for ourselves the unique
atmosphere of those times. Of course as young university
students we were privileged just as you are and at many of our contemporaries had had
very different experiences yet I remained convinced that each generation
has the distinct ethos and that every member
of it makes it part of his or her identity. On the whole my generation of
graduates was an optimistic one and we were full of confidence. The Second World War had been
over long enough for its pains and privations to have
receded from our young memories and the Charter of the
recently created United Nations, which promised to prevent such a global tragedy form
ever occurring again filled us with hope. We are not yet aware
of the Cold War that had already started
nor were we anxious then about the threat of
nuclear annihilation. As we shared our stories
of college life I saw that we’d been a light-hearted
bunch, unafraid of the future, in fact enchanted by it, talk
about rose tinted glasses. We had a good four years
with some exceptions. We had had lively and
interesting professors and we got to know them
and our classmates well because our programs were fixed. We couldn’t drink in
residence and there was not all that much drinking
outside except of course among the engineers. Only in my last year was I able
to sneak into the King Coal Room in the basement of
the Park Plaza and I was still underage
when I graduated. I don’t remember any of my
classmates seriously involved with drugs but we
smoked like fiends. It was cool, a term
even then we used and no one told us it
would cause cancer. We fell in and out of
love all the time but most of our sex was foreplay
constrained more by fears of pregnancy than by STD’s. Our communication technology
consisted of a radio, a portable typewriter,
the telephone down the hall and letters. After graduation jobs were easy
to find and we married young and had large families. As I look back now I can see
how innocent we were of all of the world’s problems. I was going to say ignorant
but perhaps that’s too harsh, what we were was unaware of the
dark side of our prosperity. The price our planet would pay
for our consumers…would play and continue to play for
the consumerism we embraced so cheerfully. The exploitation of
children that has come with the new technologies
we found so exciting and the diseases that would
emerge as the world shrank. On the day I graduated
the population of our globe was approximately
2 billion 100 million. This year on Halloween there
will be 7 billion of us. Shortly after graduation
I married a man who became a diplomat and
together we slowly woke up to the real challenges
confronting our generation. Most of his working life
was focused on issues of international peace
and security, arms control and disarmament, the role of
international institutions such as NATO and the UN and Canada’s responsibility
to the wider world. His career spanned 40
years of the Cold War and among the hard realities
of international politics that I learned along the way
was that one of the major forces that kept the U.S. and the
U.S.S.R. from blowing us all up was known as MAD, or
mutually assured destruction. Towards the end of his life
however, when the Cold War was over Jeffrey became increasingly
preoccupied with what he saw as the new threat to human
security and human survival. Threats that were not even on
our radar screen 60 years ago. He talked about them
whenever he had an opportunity and I’ll repeat them now
because I think he was right and these are the
challenges that you and your generation are
going to have to confront. The first is climate change and all its implications
especially for the poor. Floods and droughts are already
undermining food security and increasing the numbers of people especially
children going hungry. The second is ethnic
conflict within states rather than between states such as we
see in Afghanistan and the Congo as well as Libya where
tribalism is strong. The suffering has shifted
to civilian populations and children have
become weapons of war. His third concern was about
plagues, emerging pathogens and the global spread
of disease. All these threats are compounded
of course by the explosion of the world’s population. He was also concerned as
we all should be by poverty and especially by the
growing gap between the rich and the poor, both between
nations and within nations. Poverty makes people sick,
inequity makes them worse. Sometimes I think
that like Pandora in the ancient Greek legend, our generation opened what we
thought was a treasure chest of riches and let loose
instead a massive cloud of ills. But before you get too
discouraged remember that the last thing to fly
out of Pandora’s box was that illusive thing
called hope because along with all our mistakes, all the
mistakes our generation also helped to create at least three
tools your generation can employ to overcome these challenges and
to build a flourishing society. These are expanding scientific
knowledge about who we are as human beings, new
information technologies and universally accepted
human rights frameworks. Scientific standards are much
higher today than they used to be, and we know
a great deal more about how human beings
develop in childhood as well as what constitutes the
social determinants of health. With respect to the new
information technologies the sky is the limit. Most of you grew
up in cyberspace, but it was our generation
that discovered it. However let me focus
for a moment on the third tool
we helped to create. The whole body of international
human rights instruments that have emerged under the
aegis of the United Nations since the end of the
Second World War. All the covenants and treaties
negotiated among nations and then ratified,
thus committing states to guarantee human rights
to all without exception. Since 1989 all of
my work on behalf of young people has been
framed by the UN convention on the rights of the
child and I have found it to be a rich document addressing
every aspect of children’s lives in a positive and
constructive manner a catalyst for the culture, for the
creation of a culture of respect for the dignity and
worth of every child. Sixty years ago it would
have been unimaginable that virtually every nation in
the world would allow itself to be held accountable to
the international community for its treatment of
children, but now in spite of all their failures they do. So for good or ill, it was my
generation that gave definition to the latter half of the
twentieth century and now, for good or ill, it is yours that will shape the
twenty-first. So as you set out from here into the wider world here
are my final admonitions. Be mindful, be curious,
be capable and above all be compassionate. Congratulations to you
all and the best of luck. [ Applause ]


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