Risk-taking and ‘attitude’ extolled by honorary degree recipients

Herbert Carnegie and Barnett Danson share more than their newly minted honorary doctorates. As leaders in the community and in business, they have triumphed over significant adversity and placed the welfare of future generations of Canadians ahead of their own. Carnegie and Danson were honoured by York University during Faculty of Arts convocation ceremonies on June 12 and 13.

Here are some highlights from their appearances.

Herbert Carnegie

For 86-year-old Carnegie, it’s all about developing a good attitude, and that was the message he delivered to graduates of the Faculty of Arts. He spoke from experience because, for much of his adult life, Carnegie worked as a mentor and tireless community activist. One of the most promising hockey players of his era, the former Quebec Ace never had the opportunity to turn professional due to the racial barriers of the time.

Left: Herbert Carnegie

Finding inspiration in disappointment, he redirected his energies to become a successful businessman and financial planner. Opening the first hockey school in Canada, he wrote The Future Aces Creed to encourage, inspire and guide young people. In 1987, he established the Herbert H. Carnegie Future Aces Foundation to provide university scholarships for civic-minded students.

“I hardly know just what to say. To be in such a distinguished position I wanted to assure all of you that I did not travel this road alone,” said Carnegie. “Right from the beginning, while there where many obstacles and challenges of different kinds, the one message I would like to leave with the graduates of today is one word, and that word is attitude.

“Make that word your friend for life, because attitude in its real meaning is the way you feel right now. You feel something wonderful and if you feel something within yourself that makes you feel good, hang onto it and don’t lose it,” said Carnegie. “Your attitude will direct your every action. Attitude – make it your friend and take it on the long journey of life.”

Left: Carnegie shows students his cane and describes his battle with glaucoma

In a poignant gesture, Carnegie held up a white cane. He spoke about having a poor attitude when doctors told him that he needed to follow a strict regime of eye care to prevent advancing glaucoma. “My experience tells me that attitude is everything. I am going to show you my white cane. This cane is my friend right now because I did not listen to the doctors. I had a poor attitude and now this cane is helping me to walk the journey of life. Through a positive attitude you will learn to listen and take the long journey successfully.”

Barnett Danson

“Barney” Danson served Canada in many capacities, most notably with distinction in the Second World War, as a member of Parliament and as minister of national defence under Pierre Trudeau.

Right: Barnett Danson

He was also the first Chair of the Canadian War Museum’s advisory board, a governor of the Canadian Council on Aboriginal Business, and producer of “No Price Too High,” a six-part CBC series on Canada’s role during the Second World War.

“This is a great day for me and it is wonderful to be honoured by a great university. I have to admit that it is pretty difficult for a former politician to have two microphones placed in front of him and an audience . . . I could go on forever,” chuckled Danson.

He described to graduates that growing up during the Great Depression and coming of age during the Second World War meant the only jobs available were in active military service. Speaking with passion about his war experience, Danson said, “I made friends for life and for the four years prior to going into action, I enjoyed life, chased skirts and had fun. I also lost many friends on the battlefields. Back then, Canada’s population was only 11 million people, and yet one million young Canadian men and women joined the forces before the war. Among the 42,000 young Canadians who did not return were my four closest friends. Why they did not survive, I don’t know. These were beautiful young Canadians who earned the medals I wear so proudly.”

Left: Robert Drummond (left), dean of the Faculty of Arts, looks on while Barnett Danson is congratulated by Chancellor Peter Cory and York President & Vice Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden

Danson urged graduates to value what his generation fought so hard to preserve: freedom – to speak, to worship and to vote freely. He also encouraged graduates to strive to be extraordinary and take risks. “There is no sin in making mistakes. However, the greatest sin is in not trying to reach your potential,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to move on and take risks. You have to be interested and enjoy what you are doing. You will also need a lot of luck. However, if you enjoy what you are doing, then it is not work and luck will come to you.

“It is a great, big, new world that you are going out to face and each of you are in for a hell of a ride,” he said. “If you take one thing from my comments, let it be that you won’t give in to drudgery. If you wake up one morning and the thought of going to work is upsetting, then you know that you have to move on. If on the other hand, it is Sunday night and you are happy and anticipating going to work, then go for it.”

Convocation ceremonies take place this week, daily through Saturday. You can watch live webcasts of the ceremonies while they are on. Archived versions will be available a few days later.