As I write this, most of you are busy editing final papers or writing exams, and in a few weeks, you will be receiving your degree.
What you have managed to accomplish in the past three, four years (perhaps more, and that’s ok) is nothing short of remarkable. Now more than ever, students like you are faced with competing demands on your time. Many of you work, many of you volunteer, many of you have families to support. I’m glad you stuck it out.
I’m also glad you didn’t pay any attention whatsoever during your studies. I don’t mean to your professors. I mean to those who suggested you were wasting your time getting an Arts degree. In my day, we didn’t pay attention to these either; but there seem to be a lot more of them now, and not paying attention has likely been more difficult for you than it was for me.
Sure, times are tough, and an Arts degree is no guarantee of a job. No degree or diploma or certificate really is. Does that mean you’ll be living in your parents’ basement forever and driving their totally uncool minivan while your classmates in other fields are able to afford Jets season tickets two weeks after graduating? Er, hardly, says the evidence – to which those people you haven’t been paying attention to fail to pay enough attention.
Times may be tough now, but they will get even tougher for you. Did you know your generation is expected to deal with the 21st-century and all its problems? Ever hear of global warming, for instance? How about urban poverty, bullying, international security? I’m sure you have. On behalf of my generation and the ones that came before mine, my sincere apologies for bequeathing these problems to yours, and my sincere gratitude for dealing with them. Hopefully, your bequest to your heirs will be better.
I am confident that you’ve been well prepared to deal with the 21st-century. Over the past few years, you’ve come across ideas completely foreign from your own, you’ve learned other languages, you’ve delved into the past, examined different societies and cultures, explored the inner workings of the mind, read books written hundreds of years ago by people from faraway places. In essence, you’ve been studying the 21st-century all along, for there is more to the 21st-century than the 21st-century. The 21st-century did not come into being 13 years ago. It is a creature born of history, of politics, of literature, of sociology, of philosophy.
What an Arts degree has given you is, of course, a set of skills that will translate into your becoming a responsible taxpayer and homeowner, perhaps even a good tipper. This is not unimportant; yet, it has also given you something else, a glimpse of a world other than the apparently real one in which you live. Such a glimpse – of a world that can be explained, understood, created – is what will allow you to see the real world as not so real, but rather as a world that needs change.
Wishing you all the best and thanking you in advance as you venture forward, I remain,
Dean of Arts
University of Winnipeg