2016 Fredericton Encaenia - Ceremony A

Graduation Address

Delivered by: Young, C. Mary

Your Honour, Mr. Chancellor, Mr. Vice Chancellor and President, Members of the Board of Governors, Members of the Faculty, New Graduates, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I wish to thank the Board of Governors of the University for the Honor they have bestowed on me. It is a rare event to be in such distinguished company.

It is a privilege to be able to congratulate the new graduates on their success. To graduate from this university is a fine achievement and a milestone in your lives. I hope you will go on learning throughout your lifetimes; knowledge expands opportunities and enriches your lives. Today you can throw your caps in the air and rejoice, as you have achieved your goal. But now the real work begins. For many, success is the ability to live in a certain amount of comfort. But is that all there is to life? Surely, true satisfaction lies in advancing your subject or in making a contribution to the common good. Scientists and nurses are in a unique position to do just that.

Over the last two hundred years the sciences have fractured into many specialized subjects and so I have chosen as my theme "Dare to dream but pause occasionally to consider your role in the grand scheme of things that is the living world."

You are living through changing times. I too have lived through changing times. Today the changes occur at a faster rate. Nevertheless I think there are lessons to be learned from the past and so I will draw on my experiences in Biology.

I grew up in Britain between the two world wars, during the times depicted in the TV Series Downton Abbey. We lived in a brick house with no electricity and had only candles to light us to bed. I travelled to school by steam train. My experience as a biologist started early. During the last two years of the Second World War, I was employed by an agricultural research station on a project designed to ensure that land broken up for food production was fertile and had few insect pests.

I attended university immediately after the War. The previous two centuries had been the golden age of European exploration of foreign lands and investigation of the deep seas, which culminated in a flowering of descriptive and investigative biology. At the turn of the 20th century, experimental biology came to the fore and was in full swing when I attended university.

After graduating, I was employed at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, investigating insect resistance to DDT. DDT had been hailed as the perfect insecticide. It had been used successfully to control the insect vectors of a typhus epidemic in Naples, Italy, and to kill mosquitoes in many parts of the world where malaria was endemic. Suddenly it was noticed that, where there had been intensive use of DDT, houseflies were becoming a nuisance because they had become resistant. There was a fear that this would also happen with the mosquitoes, which of course, in time it did. Here was a prime example of human interference in natural systems to solve a problem, thereby creating another problem. The project was a timely one, and was funded accordingly. Today many of the projects which receive funding are of immediate practical import. It is an advantage to be able to move from basic training to applying what you have learnt to some current problem.

In Britain things moved slowly. Communication was by telephone, letter or the occasional telegram. There were, of course no computers or internet. Money for science and funding for scientific equipment was scarce. I remember seeing laboratory equipment which incorporated construction toy Meccano and which could have graced any Heath-Robinson or Rube Goldberg drawing. You may dismiss the lack of equipment as something which could not happen today, but what if you find yourself in the far north or parts of Africa? What qualities proved useful in time of shortage? Ingenuity and adaptability.

For a number of years I lived in the vibrant heart of London. There it was easy to attend scientific meetings and to contact other scientists. After marriage, I suddenly found myself on the fringes of North America in a very different society, in St. John's, Newfoundland. It was scenically stunning but somewhat isolated. It helps to be adaptable.

In the wider world, a series of discoveries were changing the face of science. The development of new antibiotics led to effective treatments of infections. Great advances in understanding the structure of the brain and in cell biology occurred. One of the most far-reaching discoveries was in the field of genetics, when Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA. This one discovery opened up new areas of research, and, as a result, today we can look forward to individualized medical treatments. Similarly, the development of computers allowed the rapid analysis of large quantities of data and changed our ways of learning. Each discovery led to further research and to an expansion of opportunities, provided you learned the new technology.

By the 1960s there was a public realization of the inter-relatedness of all living things. The idea of the web of life had lain practically dormant since the early 1800s, when it was first proposed by the German scientist, Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt had pointed out that any disturbance in one part of the web of life created changes elsewhere. By the early 1960s, ecology became an area worthy of scientific study. At the University of New Brunswick, the herbarium collection of pressed and dried plants became a valuable teaching aid.

After my children left home I began doing volunteer work in the herbarium. This led me in several directions. Initially there was the work of the herbarium itself. Familiarity with the collection made me aware that in New Brunswick we have some very rare plants and some special populations. Human activities sometimes endangered special plants and animals. From my work with DDT I was already familiar with the type of problems which can arise. The situation in New Brunswick was forcibly brought home to us when Rachel Carson, in her book Silent Spring, described the effect of forest spraying on the salmon populations of the Miramichi River.

The need for conservation was obvious. When Harold Hinds of the biology department wanted to found an organization for that purpose, a small group of us worked closely to start a company, adopt by-laws, select a board of trustees and gain charitable status. We could then accept land for conservation. Through the dedication and hard work of many people, The Nature Trust of New Brunswick is, today, a highly respected conservation organization with over 40 nature reserves.

Familiarity with the work of the herbarium also made me aware that the institution had early beginnings. It had started in the 1830s, long before the fracturing of the sciences, when the first Professor of science was expected to teach Chemistry, Biology and Geology. I researched the history of the collection and over time, my investigation broadened to cover plant exploration of the whole province resulting in an e-book which was published just a year ago. What were the motives of the people who had contributed so much to plant exploration of the province? Most of them, I discovered were imbued with a tireless enthusiasm, a strong work ethic and intellectual curiosity, all qualities we would do well to cultivate today.

Instead of listing the many attributes which might help you along your way I will leave you with three points for your consideration 1. Keep learning throughout your lives 2. Be adaptable 3. Strive to work well with others to achieve a common goal. But above all, pause occasionally to consider your role in the grand scheme of things: the living world.

Today is a day for celebration. Enjoy it with your families and friends and make the most of it. I wish all of you happy and fulfilling lives.

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