Critical Approaches to Culture + Communications

A Weblog by Ron Burnett (Founded in 1994 and now celebrating 23 Years!!)

This site began as one of the first academic sites in Canada when the World Wide Web was in its early phase of development. I have maintained it through many iterations since 1994.

Speech presented at the 77th Graduation Ceremony of Emily Carr Institute

Honoured guests, Dr. George Pederson, Chair of the Board of Governors, members of the Board, Graduates, Faculty, Staff, Families and Friends, today I will speak to you about some of the challenges that we will all face in the near future and the crucial role that the graduates from this institution will play in the future well-being of our society and of Emily Carr Institute.

This is my tenth graduation ceremony since being appointed President in 1996. Each year is different and each year is special. Each year we celebrate your achievements and your successes. It is always a humbling experience for me and I hope for all of you. Over the last ten years 2800 hundred students have graduated from Emily Carr. Since 1929, 7500 students have graduated from our great institution. In other words, 81 years after our founding, over 37 percent of our graduates have come through Emily Carr during the last ten years.

Before I begin my formal speech, I want to take a moment to honour someone whom many of you have met. Rick Robinson has been working at Emily Carr since the early 1970’s and since 1974 as a core member of our technical staff. If you have ever gone into the wood workshop in the North Building, then you have met Rick. This is a man whose dedication to the job, to the Institute and to students has been total — a dedication that goes far beyond conventional norms and expectations. Rick is a gentle, wonderful person whose contribution to Emily Carr has been so very profound. Today, we are going to honour Rick with a certificate of achievement and by permanently establishing an entrance scholarship in his name. The Rick Robinson Entrance scholarship will pay the full fees of an incoming domestic student and is our way of saying thank-you to someone who has done so much for so many generations of students and who is a crucial part of the very fabric of our institution.

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On the Future…
“Sometimes there are moments in human history that seem to beckon awakenings. They perturb us to reevaluate our beliefs, assumptions, and reigning cultural stories. They challenge us to synthesize and integrate seemingly disparate forms of knowledge into new relationships, new patterns, and new theories. They invite us to invent new language, new rules, and new structures. They call us to create and live into new stories of possibility. These moments grace us with enlightened insights and more soulful understanding. They fill us with wonder and amazement. They open us to life and to the invitation to reclaim the fire and light that resides within us all to change the world.

(Stephanie Pace Marshall)

Stephanie Pace Marshall who wrote those words is one of America’s most important educational leaders. Her words are very important in the context of this ceremony. As graduates of Emily Carr you will encounter a series of moral and ethical issues and challenges that will test not only the education that you have had, but also your ability to respond quickly and sensibly to dramatic change at the social, cultural and political level. Soulful understanding connects you to your role as both artist and citizen, as designer and citizen, and as media creator and citizen. We carry many labels in our lives but none is more important than the label of citizen and with that label come many responsibilities including a passion for the social good, an understanding of and compassion for those less fortunate than us and a desire to contribute to the well-being of our society.

One of your most important challenges will be to make the environment for living and working in our society a more humane one and it will be your creativity, your knowledge and your sensitivity to invention and innovation that will mark you and also separate you from other post-secondary graduates.

In this, the sixth year of a new century, your skills in advancing and widening the role of the arts as an integral part of our social fabric and as a powerful catalyst in shaping the life of our local, national and global communities will be crucial not only to your well-being but to the well-being of the planet.

You are our greatest asset. You represent the living memories of the learning experiences at Emily Carr Institute, the continuity and connections between generations and the future of the institution as well as the future of the arts.

As Emily Carr moves into its next phase with graduate programs, a joint degree with the University of Northern British Columbia and the opening of our new research studio, Intersections Digital Studio of Art, Design and Media, we invite you to stay connected with us and to always feel that we are part of your extended family.

What do you take from this place? A grad project, stories, friendships, memories? Learning cannot be quantified. Hopefully you have learned some lessons about how to overcome hurdles, how to take on a challenge and succeed, how to better understand the story of your life and how to be sensitive to the stories of others. You will have brought poetry and imagination to your learning, new vision and the sense that the creative spirit cannot and should not be kept at bay. Hopefully, you will have learned how to channel your ideas into material forms but never at the cost of the passion that you have for experimentation. Some things cannot be expressed and some projects cannot fully represent the depth and complexity of your initial impulses. But, you are also part of a time when conventional notions of art, audience and display are undergoing fundamental change. It is no longer that simple to see oneself as an isolated creator. For better or worse, you are part of a growing cultural space that more and more people are noticing. You are a generation that will have a voice and with that comes even greater responsibilities to your families and to your communities.

My challenge to you is to always remember the institution that you have come from and to integrate your learning into the values of your life and to never forget that as holders of degrees from an Art and Design school, your mission is to bring the light and fire of creativity to the everyday lives of people in your communities, to inspire and be inspired, to challenge and be challenged, to create and promote and support the arts.

I will end with a quote from William Allen White who was one of the great journalists of the early 20th century:

"About all that a grad speaker can do for his auditors is to turn their faces around. He looks back upon the world as he thinks it was. Then he considers the world as he thinks it is. Finally in his receding perspective he discloses the pictured phantasm which he hopes will be the future. Thereupon his listeners may see mirrored in the gloss of his picture the world which they think they will make. It is a pleasant exercise.

GOOD LUCK AND ALL THE BEST FROM ALL OF US!!!!