Raffi joins ‘beluga grads’

On Monday afternoon 173 Laurier students received their degrees, signaling a move into a more serious, adult phase of their lives. However, at this particular convocation, they were given a friendly reminder of their childhoods.

Joining the grads from Laurier’s education and music programs at the first of nine convocation ceremonies scheduled for this week was Raffi Cavoukian, a renowned Canadian musician and children’s activist. Cavoukian was one of this year’s nine honourary degree recipients, receiving an honourary doctorate of letters.

“I’ve always known of Laurier as an institution that’s held in high regard, so [getting the honourary degree] came as a lovely surprise,” said Cavoukian, who already has honourary degrees from both the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria.

“It’s on behalf of children that I accept these degrees because that’s what it’s always been about.”

While he’s more commonly known as as “Raffi,” the singer/songwriter of such memorable childhood songs as “Banana Phone,” “Down by the Bay” and “Baby Beluga,” recently Cavoukian has moved more heavily into child advocacy.

Along with devoting himself to the philosophy of Child Honouring, a notion in which the world can be made more sustainable by addressing the needs of children, in 2009 Cavoukian opened the non-profit Centre for Child Honouring in Salt Spring Island, B.C., the town he currently calls home. The centre focuses on education and respecting the needs of both children and the earth.

“For the rest of my life I will work to inspire societies to honour their young,” said Cavoukian. “It’s great to have the work that the Centre for Child Honouring is doing recognized. The passion is there and we’ve been working so hard.”

While his work may have gotten more serious in recent years, Cavoukian has not lost his light, fun sense of humour.

When asked how he felt receiving his honourary degree with fellow musicians, Cavoukian responded, with a smirk on his face, “I’ll simply say I’m jazzed.” Going on to say that “it’s difficult when someone who is moved to make music, for whatever reason, can’t, so those of us who can feel very privileged.”

In addition to joining music grads, Cavoukian was also graduating with the latest crop of ‘beluga grads’ a term that refers to adults who grew up listening to classics such as “Baby Beluga.”

“It’s a special delight,” said Cavoukian of receiving his degree alongside people who listened to his songs as children. “I always say if I had five dollars for every story I heard about someone listening to my songs as a child I could fund the Centre for Child Honouring in perpetuity.”

It was clear that the new grads had not forgotten the man named Raffi that they loved so dearly as children. Cavoukian was introduced and received his degree to thunderous, extended applause and was still able to make his audience laugh, even if it was a simple gesture.

Cavoukian’s address to the graduates revolved around the social and environmental problems that exist in the world. Stressing the need for a move away from corporate greed and towards the values embodied by his vision of Child Honouring, Cavoukian concluded by offering the grads an inspirational challenge.

“Restoring the future may take a miracle,” he said. “But the good news is, that miracle is you.”

Laurier will hold two convocation ceremonies each day for the rest of the week. Upcoming honourary degree recipients include Lieutenant General, the Right Honourable Roméo Dallaire and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour on Wednesday as well as philanthropists Craig and Marc Kielburger on Thursday.

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