Speech: Convocation Address January 2019 -- True Patriot Reason

As 2018 drew to a close and we turned to 2019, The Globe and Mail newspaper argued that Canada needed more people making reasonable decisions, decisions and interpretations that would stand up to the scrutiny of ‘a reasonable person’.

As members of the Saint Mary community, we all aspire to be reasonable people, even as we all suspect at times that we live in an unreasonable world.

Some people would seem to think complex public policy issues can be resolved on Twitter – with a simple thumbs up or thumbs down.

Others would have us believe that clicking “Like’ on a Facebook post will trim greenhouse gas emissions or solve the global refugee crisis.

The Globe and Mail newspaper suggests reasonable people need to make reasonable decisions for the betterment of Canadian society in 2019.

Reasonable decisions about energy policy, and international relations, and trade. Reasonable decisions – even about congressional budgets, extradition treaties, and climate change.

This idea – that reasonable people acting in good faith will do the ‘right thing’ – is at the heart of our legal system and is a bulwark of liberal democracy.

As the Globe puts it, Canada needs leaders who weigh both sides of an argument, who ask tough questions instead of accepting conventional wisdom, who are skeptics not cynics.

To quote the Globe:

 “The challenge for the reasonable person, and reasonable politics, is that the not-so-reasonable way has many appeals. It’s easier to reflexively hit “like” or “dislike” than to reflect. It’s easier to pass judgment than to reserve judgment, and to instantly condemn rather than patiently consider. It’s easier to accept settled answers rather than to raise an unsettling question. It’s easier to be cynical than skeptical.”

Remember the importance distinction between the two – a skeptic searches for truth.

A cynic, as Oscar Wilde said, is someone “who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

All of you graduating here today are skeptics, not cynics.

As such, you are part of Canada’s next generation of reasonable people.

Through your studies in Business, Science and the Arts, you have developed the skills, attitudes, curiosities and thoughtfulness required to consider evidence, question it, interrogate it, and produce reasoned analysis.

Saint Mary’s has helped train your mind as a reasonable person. It has also taught you about diversity, about respect, about thriving in a community that looks and feels and thinks and acts globally.

Perhaps you have studied the evolution of labour relations in early 19th century industrial Britain – and have developed a reasoned understanding of the history of labour and capital.

Your future work may be to understand and address the world’s growing prosperity gap.

Perhaps you have studied experimental chemistry and developed tests that provide systematic solutions for pharmaceutical processes.

Maybe your career will be to develop medicines that prolong life and enhance its quality.

Perhaps you have analyzed a financial balance sheet in terms of accepted accounting principles.

Your next job may be adding new indices to supplement standard accounting practices – like the quality of life for employees – that show up on a new kind of balance sheet.

Perhaps you have synthesized perspectives from moral philosophy in order to develop a new understanding of tolerance of difference in our society.

At Saint Mary’s, we know these endeavours require the application of reason, the questioning of assumptions in your method, and the weighing up of evidence to draw meaningful conclusions.

Here’s the other thing I need to say. As President of a growing university with a deep sense of community, I have had the privilege of meeting many of you personally over the last years and months.

Every day I witness first hand your energy, your curiosity, your compassion, your capacity for growth, and your immense potential.

I am excited that you are now bringing your skills to society at large.

As a Santamarians, you carry the responsibility of influencing business, science, engineering, technology, arts, culture, economics, society, global understanding and politics.

And influencing them for the better.

Because of your importance to the future of Nova Scotia, Canada and the planet, I urge you to go forward from today and deploy that distinctive Santamarian reason in the wider world.

Age quod agis.