Grads must live up to their diploma

Scott Courtice, ArtSci ’02
Scott Courtice, ArtSci ’02

For current Queen’s students, and staff, convocation is a time to celebrate the accomplishments of our graduates and to wish them well as they embark on a new stage in their lives.

In years past, I haven’t given a second thought to the importance of convocation. I only thought it meant that Alfie’s would be jammed wall to wall, packs of camera-happy parents would be frolicking freely on campus, parking would be at a premium and faculty, adorned in funny hats and clashing gowns, would be setting a new standard for fashion. This year I have the privilege of attending the convocation ceremonies as a presenter of awards. I know I’ll be hard pressed to contain my pride and joy as I watch many of my best friends graduate into ‘the real world.’ At the same time, my feelings of joy will undoubtedly be smattered with a touch of envy because I entered Queen’s with an expected graduation date of 2001.

This feeling will be evident when the alphabetical line-up of Arts and Science graduates hits “Cou,” the place I should have been. So, if you catch me gazing longingly into the eyes of Stacey Coulas as she receives her degree, the majority of my desire will be directed at the degree clenched in her hand.

But as my friends depart, I feel the need to reflect not only on their talents and accomplishments, but also on the great privilege that the past four years has been for them and for every student who has attended Queen’s. The vast majority of Canadians—close to 80 per cent—will never have the opportunity to obtain a post-secondary education, but it is primarily through their tax dollars that we have been allowed to pursue ours. At the same time, we must recognize that education costs incurred by students continue to rise. As the student portion increases, the 20 per cent of Canadians obtaining their degrees will not necessarily be the ones who are the most qualified. Instead, they will be the ones with the ability to pay. This is a threat.

Due to the government’s obsession with economic growth, the current lobbying strategy of university administrations and student governments has been to use economic arguments. We use statistics, for example, to demonstrate that every dollar spent on post-secondary education will filter four dollars back to the Canadian economy. We sing the praises of the innovative and technically skilled work force that universities produce and how that work force will position Ontario and Canada as an economic powerhouse in the future. These arguments are valid and effective, but they also miss an important point. We forget that the debt owed to society is much greater than our ability to drive the economic engines of the country. Each and every one of us also owes a duty to our fellow citizens to foster positive social change. We have an obligation to help build a society that values social justice, strives to provide equal opportunities and makes ‘taking care of thy neighbor’ our modus operandi. Many argue that a strong economy—to which university graduates contribute—will take care of its citizens, and we need not worry about taking personal action to cure society’s ills. They argue that the riches of the economy will inevitably trickle down to the less fortunate and that the scraps of our success will be more than enough to provide for everyone. I’m also confident that economists could draw a series of well-reasoned graphs, demonstrating the validity of this theory. If these graphs allow us to sleep at night, then so be it. But we should not feel comfortable solely using the skills we’ve acquired to benefit ourselves, with the hopes that others will derive secondary benefits from our success. As society’s contribution to post-

secondary education declines and the student portion of those costs forever increases, it will become more and more difficult to instill this sense of social responsibility in university graduates. If the justification for increased tuition continues to be that university grads have a healthy earning potential, we should not be surprised if it becomes the sole obsession of future graduates. In fact, for a few of my friends this is already the case. I’d like to end with a plea to the class of 2001: respect the great gift that has been given to you; work to make our world a better place; and fight to ensure that young Canadians from all walks of life will have a chance to follow in your footsteps and obtain a Queen’s education.

If you do, you will be the leaders and citizens that Queen’s has trained you to be.

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Scott Courtice, president of the Alma Mater Society, would like to graduate this year, but he’s pretty busy.

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