Convocations are often staid affairs. Officials are careful to only invite inoffensive speakers, in order to avoid complaints. Sometimes they get criticized anyway, like at Thursday’s University of Winnipeg convocation where the student association protested an honourary degree to a businessman because of a past labour dispute.
Considering that, it seemed refreshing that Nipissing University decided to give honourary doctorates to Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee of Rush, an extremely successful rock band, but a rock band no less. Unfortunately, their plane was turned back from North Bay’s airport due to fog. While that was disappointing for Nipissing, it means we get to hear their speeches too, which were recorded and published online instead.
Both have the same theme: hard work and perseverance are what count. Lifeson’s is the lighter of the two. He talks of, “dreaming of fantasy gigs where we’d get paid tens of dollars and all the chicken wings we could eat.” More seriously, he explains how they responded to the failure of an album and went on to greater success. “You don’t always win when you try,” he says, “but you always fail when you don’t.” Lee’s speech was dedicated to his mother, Mary Weinrib, a concentration camp survivor who emigrated from Poland to Canada without any money or English. “Finally my mother’s dream comes true,” he says, “she has a doctor for a son.”