History shows independence of mind always prevails

Civilization is a never-ending battle, Jean-Robert Pitte told graduating students of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies during York’s 2012 Spring Convocation ceremonies.

Jean-Robert Pitte, York Chancellor Roy McMurtry and President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh ShoukriPitte, one of the world’s eminent historical geographers, received an honorary doctor of laws degree Wednesday. He spoke to students about the nature of universities, including their duty to contribute to the growth of civilization, which must include both the mind and the heart, lest we forget.

“The tunnels may sometimes be long and challenging, but history has shown that independence of mind always prevails and that rays of sunshine are truly breathtaking – albeit not always cloud free,” said Pitte.

From left, Jean-Robert Pitte, York Chancellor Roy McMurtry and President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri

He stressed the importance of both a social science and humanities-based education, saying “humanities is crucial in today’s world” because it connects with the individual expression of each person’s talent, while “social sciences tend to favour the social dimension of the human being.”

Students who attend university for several years should “be convinced that there is always something to learn and seek, and that knowledge is boundless,” said Pitte. “Such a philosophy will help students in their working life, no matter which career they choose.”

It is fortunate, he said, that university libraries have provided “access to accumulated knowledge since time immemorial,” but it is important to remember that oral teaching provides a more concrete and in-touch with the flesh of the world experience. Many of the greatest thinkers never wrote a single thing.

“Books alone are not enough,” he said. Students need to go on exchanges and travel the world as part of their learning.

York’s 2012 Spring Convocation ceremonies were streamed live and then archived online. To view Pitte’s convocation address, visit the Convocation website.