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Fall Convocation

Fall convocation was held November 18 in an unaccustomed venue, the Palais des Congrès, but the ambience was, as always, one of quiet pride, as graduates accepted their laurels in the presence of their families, friends and many members of the faculty and staff. Honorary doctorates were awarded to the Hon. Lise Thibault, Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec, and theatre wizard Robert Lepage.


O Canada was sung by the FACE Treble Choir. FACE stands for Fine Arts Core Education, and the enhanced-curriculum school is part of the English Montreal School Board.


It's definitely not Place des Arts, but Concordia organizers tried to make the Palais des Congrès as welcoming as possible for graduates and their families.


Convoc/Lepage Convoc/Thibault

Actor/writer/director Robert Lepage, who has just finished shooting his first English-language feature film in Montreal, signs the register after receiving his honorary degree.


The Hon. Lise Thibault, seen here with Chancellor Eric Molson (right), gave the graduates some warm words of congratulation. With her are bodyguard Guy Hamelin and aide-de-camp Inspector Jean Brisebois.

Be alert to the science of sparing

Here is an excerpt from the valedictory address by Mark Kristmanson, who was awarded his PhD in Humanities at fall convocation

Modernity has been characterized as a dialectic of creative destruction and destructive creation, and this nicely describes how our knowledge contributes to social and environmental change.

What we think about less often is how learning also teaches us to withhold certain actions, to remain silent in certain situations, to spare from change those things that are finely attuned to their location in space and time.

To clarify this idea of "leaving something beforehand in its own essence," imagine a genetics lab whose project is to scramble the wondrous navigation of geese, to genetically alter them so that during hunting season they collide upon takeoff. The great host of birds takes wing and falls concussed in a tangle of feathers.

Why should such genetic tampering with the patterns of bird flight strike us as repulsive, even as a hypothesis? Is it because we would have failed to leave something beforehand in its own essence?

As we embark on our own various flight plans, we might consider how our knowledge will be used. Manipulation of genes is one vexed area of scientific ethics, but those of us in the humanities and social sciences must remember that such manipulation occurs in the realm of information, as well.

The Cold War, for example, showed how it is possible to induce intellectual collisions and confusion. It is 10 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and still the extent and effect of the closures exerted on social and political thought are not fully understood.

Each knowledge discipline holds the possibility for turning away from itself towards a more gentle science, a science that is truly interdisciplinary, something quite sustainable and as finely adapted to our landscape as a flock of Canada geese.

This gentle science is manifested as a kind of vigilance, a poised balancing of intervention and withholding. "The world is as sharp as a knife," the Haida saying goes. It is a vigilance that knows when to spare something from harm instead of making it the object of intervening knowledge. It is the same vigilance that alerts us to resist when authoritarianism creeps in.

Perhaps this turning aside to an alert science of sparing, this vigilance regarding essences, is what freedom consists of.

Copyright 1999 Concordia's Thursday Report.