World-renowned Canadians receive WLU degrees


They’ve heard of him, they’ve read about him and they’ve studied him, but on one of the most important days of their lives, various Arts grads had the opportunity to listen to the honourable Lt – General (Ret.) Roméo Dallaire speak at their convocation.

The retired general – who is known for his humanitarian efforts and his account of the 1994 Rwandan genocide in his award winning book Shake Hands with the Devil – received an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree on June 8 at the Wilfrid Laurier University Athletic Complex.

“It’s not an insignificant degree because the institution is a bit close to my heart; I’ve been here on a number of occasions speaking,” Dallaire told The Cord. “But Wilfrid Laurier is my political mentor. So I’ve quite the attachment to the history of the individual.”

While he did receive an honorary degree, the main reason Dallaire was at Laurier was because he had the chance to speak to the recent graduates.

“It’s nice, but given the chance to talk to new graduates, that’s the real opportunity and that’s why it is nice to come to this,” he said.

The crowd of graduates, professors, parents and family members weren’t shy to show their overwhelming appreciation for Dallaire, as they welcomed his acceptance speech with a lengthy standing ovation.

With that, Dallaire joked, “You haven’t even heard my speech yet.”

But Dallaire did end up delivering a mesmerizing and inspirational speech that addressed the next stage in life many of these graduates are now in.

“What we want to do in the future is not survive it, but thrive in it,” said Dallaire. “We are a time of revolution, not change.”

“And you are marching into it as young leaders,” he added.

Dallaire shared with the graduates and the audience his many concerns for the future, including the exponential growth of technology and the increasing dependence on it.

“What happens if Google goes rogue?” Dallaire asked. “Who controls Google then?”

As well, Dallaire openly expressed his disapproval of nuclear arms and the trillions of dollars spent on them.

He also stated that university students should become more engaged in the world around them. With a large margin of the voting population in the ages of 18-35, Dallaire urges young people to exercise that right.

But getting students involved in developing countries is what Dallaire really hopes for.

“I think there should a right of passage of students to not visit London or Paris, but go to Kinshasa and Bujumbura and get their boots dirty in Africa, in South America and developing countries,” continued Dallaire. “Just to know, to feel, to hear, to see, to smell what is happening to 80% humanity and inhuman conditions and bring that to influence any world of endeavour they are in.”

Recently, Dallaire has published his second book, They Fought Like Soldiers, They Died Like Children¸ and is continuing work in Africa.

He will go back to the Congo in October to train U.N. soldiers on how to deal with child gangs. As well he will train police officers, military, non-governmental organizations and run courses at the University of Botswana.

When asked what advice he had to give to university grads and students, Dallaire simply stated, “Work hard.”

Dallaire ended his speech congratulating the graduates and wishing them the best of luck in the future, but of course without a little bit of humour.

“Well done to you, well done to the families, now, get off you butts and do something.”

At the morning convocation, graduates from the the geography and environmental studies, global studies and general BA programs were joined by former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, who was receiving an honourary Doctor of Laws degree.

A lawyer by trade, Arbour has become one of the world’s leading crusaders for human rights. Prior to being named the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Arbour was chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda and was instrumental in the U.N. decision to designate rape and sexual violence as crimes against humanity.

In her convocation address, Arbour called on the graduates to be global citizens and above all else, remember that every human life is sacred.

“Inevitably we live with ignorance and hatred [in the world],” she said. “But ultimately we live with the tools to intervene…. And we are generation who knows what happens if we don’t.”

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