Above, left to right: Glendon Principal Kenneth McRoberts, York President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and York Chancellor Avie J. Bennett
York’s Glendon College plays an important role in preparing its students to “see and feel the experience of others” through the teaching of what is important in another language.
That was one of the themes Adrienne Clarkson, the Governor General of Canada, touched on when she received an honorary doctorate at the final York spring convocation ceremony on Saturday.
Speaking in French and English at Glendon, Clarkson said, “If globalization means anything, it means that we must all learn languages in order to truly be part of a world that has interdependent needs.
“You as graduates play a very important role in continuing to help Canada by your bilingualism and the approach that you took to have an education in another language. The openness of the choice at this college, to study in English and in French at the same time, helps you to open your mind not only to the other culture of this country but to open your mind to people of other cultures, other languages.”
Clarkson also spoke about bilingualism in general, education in Canada and immigrants to this country.
“Since 1848 we have become an amazing example to the rest of the world – a country with two major world languages and, to begin with, two religions. I firmly believe that this has made us, from the middle of the 20th century on, able to accept immigrants from all over the world…because we were able to accept complexity from the beginning,” she said.
“As you have become bilingual and have worked in both languages while you have been educated, you’ve helped to create already an attitude in this country that is welcoming, understanding and accepting to new arrivals in Canada.”
Right: A proud moment for Clarkson
The Governor General quoted Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye, who said he wished he could do away with the “fatuous and dismal notion” that education is a preparation for life. “What he meant really was that you have to live your life and that you don’t continually get prepared for it. In studying this way, in using the two languages of this country, you are already living your life.”
Public education has been crucial to the positive reception immigrants find in Canada, said Clarkson, who is herself an immigrant, having arrived in this country as a refugee from Hong Kong in 1942. “In public education we can help people understand how to take their place as citizens, as fully participating members of a country with a long history of democracy and inclusion,” she said.
“Immigrants, like newly graduating students, are seeking their way to establish themselves in a new worlds. Those of you who are immigrants, or the children of immigrants, have a double share of this feeling that you must be able to be a part of your society, contribute to your society, improve your society.”
Quoting Canadian novelist Margaret Laurence about her spiritual growth, Clarkson said people must learn to try to feel, in their heart’s core, the reality of others. “That is what being a citizen of a country means. It is a large concept having to do with the linking of human beings in an agreed set of cultural, intellectual and spiritual values.
“You have already made that first step by learning another language, by putting yourself in another’s place,” said Clarkson. “I hope that you will consider continuing that kind of growth.”