Honorary Doctorate from the Université de Moncton
Moncton, Saturday, May 23, 2009
It is an immense privilege for me to receive an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from an institution such as yours. I am deeply moved and thank you very much.
On this solemn occasion, the italiana in me recalls Dante’s famous words: “I love to doubt as well as know.”
Because I believe that doubt is a powerful antidote to acceptance, convention, inertia and apathy.
Doubt, dear graduates of 2009, is what prevents us from ceasing to take on the world; it is what allows us to redefine our place and resist the most deep-rooted prejudices. Doubt fuels our desire to understand every nuance, so essential to thought.
I know that here, in Acadia, I am among women and men, young people for whom history is a magnificent lesson in perseverance, and that now more than ever is the time to remember that we have agreed to open borders and reject standardized cultures. That we have embraced what is universal rather than withdraw into ourselves.
I know that you, as Acadians and friends of Acadia, like me, have played and continue to play a vital role in the development La Francophonie here in Canada and abroad.
Your institutions are eloquent reminders of this. This one, for example, has become, in just a few short years, the second-largest university in New Brunswick and the largest Francophone university outside Quebec. And how wonderful that just one week ago, Mr. Yvon Fontaine, Rector of the Université de Moncton, was elected president of the Agence universitaire de la Francophonie!
This makes me rejoice, because, as we all know, it is only through education—the acquisition of knowledge as well as the circulation of ideas—that a culture can endure, prosper and move forward. That a language can continue to evolve and be enriched by new contributions and new concepts.
Education helps ensure that there is a new, dynamic Francophone generation, determined to face the challenges of today and tomorrow.
I recognize this new generation during my visits across this vast, moving country of ours, and when I meet Francophones who impress me with the strength of their heritage, their connection to the place they call home, and the support they give their fellow citizens and communities.
In this concert of voices and accents, born of the same language, the vitality of the Acadian culture is one of the richest in Canada.
The infatuation it incites here at home and abroad speaks not only of its universality but of its uniqueness, as I recently said to Édith Butler, who received a 2009 Governor General’s Performing Arts Award.
Several of your artists—from Antonine Maillet to Marie-Jo Thério, from Viola Léger to Marie-Hélène Allain, to name just a few—have elaborately described and continue to describe the strength of character, warmth, determination and openness of those who built Acadia through their dreams and their battles, and have given Acadia’s quest a place in today’s world.
Let us not forget that the diversity that has marked our history since its origins is our greatest strength and guarantees our success in the current globalization context. In fact, Acadia is a brilliant success story, and has been since those who built this country set out and established themselves on American soil.
Verrazzano, an Italian explorer in the service of the King of France, came to your shores in 1524 and was so struck by the magnificent trees growing here, where First Nations people had long ago started spreading their civilisation, that he named the region that extended the length of the Atlantic coast “Arcadia.” No truer words were ever spoken.
In ancient Greece, Arcadia was a plateau in the Peloponnesus that was considered paradise on Earth.
Although a number Europeans came to the region—most notably Jacques Cartier in 1534—it was not until 1604 that French colonists came to live here under the leadership of Pierre de Gua De Monts and Samuel de Champlain.
De Monts decided to establish the colonies on Saint Croix Island, and so it was on this small island that the great French adventure in America really began.
Today, more than four hundred years after De Monts and Champlain landed on Saint Croix Island, we have every reason to celebrate.
But Acadia is not just defined by its land.
Acadia is a people. A people who move to the rhythm of the modern world. A people working confidently in every sector of society and actively contributing to our growth.
Acadia is a community of belonging. Brothers and sisters in language, ideas and spirit.
Acadia is a family within La Francophonie, and, as my predecessor, the Right Honourable Roméo LeBlanc, said at the 8th Francophonie Summit, it is a family in which “the distinctiveness of each member is respected, where the benefits and needs of each are shared with the others, where mutual assistance is the order of the day and where everyone shares a common set of objectives.”
The French heritage that took root in Acadia and spread all across this great country of ours is not only a collective wealth, it is also, and more importantly, a collective responsibility.
Each and every one of us in the Francophone and Anglophone country must make this heritage our own; we must protect it and help it to continue to thrive for generations to come.
As Gérard Pelletier pointed out, it comes from the strength of the solidarity pact that ties us to one another and evokes a powerful question: Is not the fate that the majority of citizens reserves for the minority the ultimate test of a country’s democratic spirit?
I will leave you with that question, dear graduates of 2009, with the certainty that Canada has always been and will always be a country in which every one of us has the opportunity to find and create our place, as our Acadian sisters and brothers have so clearly and proudly shown us.
I will be back with you this summer to take part in the Rassemblement des jeunes taking place in Tracadie-Sheila in August.
Class of 2009, I to wish you the best of luck and, in keeping with Dante, I hope that doubt is always with you, dear friends, and that it revives in you and in French the desire to take risks for the sake of greater solidarity between us.
May you all find happiness and success!