In the spring of 2010, UBC awarded political satirist Rick Mercer with an honorary degree. As is customary, he addressed the graduating class with some words of advice.
“There have always been regional differences in this country,” Dr. Mercer told the new grads, “but too often these days those regional differences are being used to pit Canadians against one another – region against region, east against west, rural versus urban, gay versus straight, educated elites (which would now be you) versus Members of Parliament.” <laughter> “… Suddenly, the idea of nation building has become passé,” he continued. “This may help certain people get elected, but it is putting the entire country at risk. And this is where you come in, because it is your job as young Canadians to put a stop to that.”
One of the beauties of an educated populace is how well equipped it is to hold its political leaders to account. In a free society, satirists can rant, workers can strike, politicians can be voted out of office. But the confidence we enjoy here to speak our minds in safety is in stark contrast to the situation in which the citizens of many other countries find themselves. Political divisiveness in its most extreme form leads to violence and to war.
Education is the underpinning of peaceful and unified societies. Its running mates are justice, the right to vote, dignity, security, and equality. Education creates an ongoing expectation for these human rights along with an ongoing vigilance that protects against their erosion. We can never afford to be complacent. When civil society is attacked by extremists who have no tolerance of other opinions and choices, and whose exertion of power is never based on the best interests of fellow citizens, education is usually one of the first casualties.
Lauryn Oates (page 19) is an exceptionally courageous individual who knows that countries most likely to be at war are those with the worst education systems. At the age of 14, she was deeply affected by news reports about the actions of the Taliban in Afghanistan and their horrific treatment of fellow citizens, from full-scale massacres to the beating of women in the street for not adhering to a strict code of dress and conduct. That’s why Lauryn has spent the past four years risking her personal safety working to help Afghanis get access to education. She believes a literate, educated populace is the best defence against the lingering spectre of religious extremism and violence. Lauryn is graduating from UBC with a PhD in language and education literacy this November.
Mercer urged the class of 2010 to visit every corner of Canada, because the experience would make them better Canadian citizens, which in turn would make for a better country. First-hand knowledge of other perspectives breeds tolerance and beats divisiveness.
A UBC education teaches students to think independently and develop a critical eye, and it provides opportunities to travel abroad and learn from other cultures – and from exceptional grad students like Lauryn. This tends to produce not only good Canadian citizens, but good global citizens – something which makes not only for a better country, but a better world,
Vanessa Clarke, Editor