Happiness advice for graduates

Posted on June 16, 2009
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Much to my astonishment, in 2002, the University of Kings College granted me an honourary doctorate and invited me to give the Encaenia address. Since then, scientific evidence continues to pile up to support the advice I gave them regarding their happiness.

Encaenia address -David Cadogan

University of King’s College-May 16, 2002

Bishop Hiltz, Chancellor Meighen, Presidents Starnes and Traves, honourary graduates, graduates, parents and guests:

First of all, here are a few tidbits of news I’ve gleaned since arriving here yesterday.

Those of you who have heard Doctor Neil Robertson’s voice will not be surprised to hear he is adding a new career singing for the public.

The hoods worn by the journalism graduates today are borrowed from Dalhousie University. Their own have mysteriously disappeared since last year.

As of today, with his favourite team out of the playoffs, Senator Trevor Eyton has transferred his hockey loyalties from the Ottawa Senators to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

So much for the news. Couldn’t help myself. It’s what I do.

My daughter Joanne was a 1983 graduate of the University of King’s College School of Journalism. Please excuse a bit of parental pride. I’m confident there’s a copious amount of it here today. She was selected Outstanding Female Graduate and Outstanding Journalism Graduate.

The first head of the journalism program was George Bain. George had another passion in life. He owned vineyards in France. He indoctrinated his students with an appreciation of fine, red wines. Joanne came home and indoctrinated her parents.

Talk about the benefits of higher learning!

Speaking of higher learning, in those days when I came to town and took Joanne out for dinner and entertainment, Minglewood and Moon would headline at the huge version of the Misty Moon. Joanne and I never suffered from a generation gap. Halifax never really went disco.

I’m in the newspaper business. My dad, George, was the best newsman I’ve ever known. My mother, Elda, is of Irish ancestry, and was a poet, playwrite short story writer and court reporter non pareil. Her one act play “Rise and Shine,” about a young man and a young woman who do sleep through judgment day has, I believe, been performed more often than any other Canadian play in history. Together they were in the newspaper business. My daughter is a newspaper editor. For three generations we’ve made our livings crying “Hey, everybody! Look at what I found out!”

Back in January I found out that Kings proposed to give me an honourary degree. In February, I was invited to speak to you today.

I was asked not to holler “Hey everybody. Look what I found out!” until May. That was tough!

Having been told there would be three other honourees, I was intensely curious to know who they were. When I found out, I was flabbergasted. I feel like an impostor in this group. “One of these things is not like the others. One of these things is not the same.”

The Honorable J. Trevor Eyton, O.C., Q.C., B.A., LL.B., LL.D, has a record of achievement and generosity I’ve been aware of for most of my adult life. He contributes to our world in every way. He creates wealth, donates money, serves his country and, most importantly, gives himself.

Christos K. Kritikos is a pioneer of shipping containerization. That may not immediately sound wildly exciting and exotic. It is, in fact, to world trade what the internet is to information. The principle is the same. Packets are created and routed to where they are needed. Shipping costs have been reduced to such a tiny percentage of the consumer price of any item as to be almost irrelevant. Mr. Kritikos has had a large hand in improving your standard of living and the standard of living of people around the world.

Dianne Swinamer feeds the hungry of Nova Scotia and Canada and has helped make that a growth industry. You’ll have a better idea of how I feel about her work when you hear the rest of what I have to say.

First though, hey everybody, here’s what I found out about what it feels like to be offered an honourary degree from the University of Kings College!

It’s FANTASTIC! It’s unbelievable! It’s stunning! It never, ever occurred to me that such a thing could happen. I feel a little like that Australian Olympic speed skater who was just trying to keep up when everyone else fell down and he suddenly found himself alone at the finish line for an Olympic gold medal.

Bunch of kids

The four of us up here may look somewhat dignified and geezerish on the outside but I promise you, on the inside, there are a bunch of kids doing dances of joy and firing high fives.

It probably feels quite a lot like graduation without the ache from saying goodbye to so many of the most intense friends you will ever have.

It’s different from watching your children graduate. That’s a milestone that’s hard to beat. On the other hand, unlike watching your children graduate, it doesn’t hurt at all.

I don’t feel as though I deserve it but it is a huge thrill. I’ve been skulking through life just hoping I’d never get caught and put to work.

My high school yearbook described me as “The one most likely to make a million dollars writing a book called ‘Raising Hell for fun and profit.'”

As a teenager, I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. I was sent to a guidance camp. After a week of testing, the psychologist told me I’d best be a minister or a teacher. I was shocked.  Those were not at all vocations that appealed to me at the time.

As life went on, it occurred to me that the vocation of journalism includes a bit of each. If you’re lucky, your work may teach a little and preach a little.

Turns out I tell a few stories, teach a little and preach a little.

False heroes

In my lifetime, journalists have helped destroy many of the false heroes of my youth.

Athletes, politicians and celebrities have been exposed for the normal humans they are.

I think the media have a responsibility to find and celebrate the real heroes. There are thousands of them. Contrary to popular opinion, well over half of the news every day consists of good news about good people doing good things.

Last weekend I was at a provincial drama festival. Hundreds of teachers and other volunteers had made it possible for hundreds of students to gather for a wonderful adventure. My mother’s play was produced. The stage crew had to rush away during the performance to participate in a soccer tournament where more volunteers made it possible for them to play.

Real heroes make difficult choices and do difficult things, often for years.

I think I might be able to be brave for a minute. Life will show you people cheerfully coping with tremendous hardships, disabilities and responsibilities for years at a time. It seems to me a significant majority of them are women.

In a lifetime in the newspaper business, you cannot help but see a constant parade of such heroes. Real heroes don’t usually seem as exciting as celebrities and stars. You have to pay attention even to see them.

It’s worth the effort.


And now a little advice to you graduates.

First: beware of advice.

Remember that lovely graduation column by Mary Smich of the Chicago Tribune that was going around a couple of years ago?

It emphasized the importance of sun screen and advised you to throw away your old bills and keep your old love letters.

Turns out sun screen may be fooling you. National Revenue taxation may punish you for throwing out old bills. Your spouse may not feel great about you keeping your old love letters.

The parents and grandparents of my generation lived through the first half of the 20th century. WW I, the Great Depression and WW II taught them that very good people often suffer very bad times. They learned that we have to look out for each other.

They vowed that my generation would never have to go through what they went through. To us, they were generous to a fault.

The wars and the depression are a long way back now.

Volunteerism is in decline.

I fear that we are forgetting that we need each other — that we have to hang together – that unless all of us are safe, none of us is safe.

In the process of neglecting our fellows, I fear we also lose an important part of ourselves.

William Brownfield, founder of Jaycees International said that service to humanity is what our souls require.

As a community newspaperman, one sees all the church groups, service clubs, boards, charities, teams, projects and enterprises of all kinds that make a community.

If there is one lesson that has sunk in over a lifetime of watching the activities of humans it is this.

People who devote a significant portion of their spare time to providing a service to others seem to be the happiest people I meet.

I don’t really know why. It may just be a matter of positive people attracting positive people. I do know that those people are the ones who are the most fun to be around.

This observation has been so consistent that I prescribe it to you.

Volunteer to spend some time each week helping others somehow.

If you do, I predict happiness will find you.

I wish you all a world of happiness.


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