Desmond Who-Who?

My eldest daughter graduates from university this week, along with thousands and thousands of other young people ready to take on the world, which makes me glad I’m not looking for a job right now.

This will be the first university convocation I’ve sat through since my own, 27 years ago, when I graduated from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick. My convocation address was given by none other than Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a formidable champion of human rights, an inspiring orator and a great man of modern history.

I don’t recall a single word he said.

This was 1988, the height of the anti-Apartheid movement. The western world was outraged over the situation in South Africa, the only African country North Americans have ever really cared about, mostly because there are white people there. Plus, it made them feel a bit better about their own race relations. North Americans supported South Africans by making their own great sacrifice: not drinking their wine.

Nelson Mandela was still in jail then, so Desmond Tutu was the movement’s global voice – a voice that was wise, eloquent and, more to the point, adorable. Tutu was like the love child of the Dalai Lama and Yoda.

I’m sure he offered my graduating class some awe-inspiring words. I only wish I could remember what.

“If you give a man asparagus,” he might have said, “he will eat for a day. If you plant asparagus in his garden, he will grow sick of asparagus pretty quickly.”

Perhaps he told the graduates, “Anyone who says, ‘Don’t tell me to calm down,’ usually needs to calm down.”

Or: “As blessed as it is to forgive others, so must one forgive oneself for confusing Sonic Youth and the Pixies, for they both have female bassists named Kim.” That surely would have been a comfort to me in those dark times.

But I don’t know what he said.

I don’t recall much about the ceremony at all, except I know I was there because there’s a diploma on my wall – although they could have mailed it to me. No, no, I was definitely there.

Why don’t I remember this major milestone in my life? Was I drunk? No! Not with my parents there! Asleep? Well, it had been a long year, but no.

It’s possible that I was still preoccupied with the fact that I had been passed over as class valedictorian, a position I felt entitled to based on the sole qualification that I was editor of the campus newspaper where I had once written an editorial about my shoulder-length hair entitled, “My Hair: Babe-Bait or Cultural Threat?”

For real.

For real.

Instead, the valedictorian was someone charming and actually popular. I don’t remember what he said, either. He’s a criminal lawyer now. Of course he is…

Was I just so self-occupied that I tuned everything else out? Was I worried that my gown made me look dorky? Correction: dorkier?

Regardless, it’s one of my life regrets that, for whatever reason, I paid so little attention to such an important moment, and I suspect I’m not alone.

At this point, you’d expect I’d offer up some advice to young people, encouraging them to stay in the moment, be always aware of the world around them, otherwise they might miss out on wisdom and wonder.

Instead, my advice to you is: always keep your cell phone charged, because you’ll want to whip it out to record everything around you. But then, you already knew that. Even better than hearing Desmond Tutu? A selfie with Desmond Tutu!

Thank you for reading. I’m sure this has been a forgettable moment for us all.


A version of this piece originally aired on CBC Radio’s “Breakaway.”


About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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28 Responses to Desmond Who-Who?

  1. ksbeth says:

    congrats to your daughter and i have to say i love the newspaper article, it is what led you to this )

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Oh dear, it wasn’t really meant to be read, but in reading it today I realized I haven’t changed much — jackassery then, jackassery now.
      Most of the time it was more serious than that but, yes, campus paper led to working in journalism, which led to owning a weekly for awhile and now just this newspaper column that I do these days.

  2. Paul says:

    I must confess Ross, I didn’t go to my graduation. I think I forgot. ha! I enjoy celebrating milestones with others yet never did much myself. And the hair! I had hair just like that when i was late teens early twenties. So did everyone else. You’re trafficking in 70’s lore to make fun of us in front of your young 40 year old audience. Sheesh! Ha! I had side burns that could flip up because, being blonde, I couldn’t grow them. I have recently grown my hair long again for the first time in 35 years – in protest against the establishment. I rather like it – it think it makes me look rather professorial. 😀

    Congratulations to your daughter on her achievement. It is wonderful to see the young folks with all their dreams and energy take on the world. Take that, you mean old world!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Yay, youth! My daughter, who is a bit of an iconoclast (she’s the dumpster-diver I wrote about once), wasn’t going to go, but in the end did. I think she was glad she chose to because it did cement the significance of the milestone.
      Yeah, that hair. My wife (then girlfriend) likes to tell the story about when she had to go to the hospital. I went with her and stayed for awhile. When I left, the nurse asked, “Oh, did your girlfriend leave?” In fairness, I do have fabulous legs.

      • Paul says:

        It was those bangs Ross – Bwahahaha!

        • Paul says:

          Oh, by the way,I was reading in the Globe recently that there is an up swell in Europe to get edible food out of dumpsters and into the hands of those who need it. There are a number of not for profit NGO’s that have installed the framework of organizations to gather and distribute edible food. I worked in a retail warehouse that handled dry food and we threw out loads. The mfg put best before dates on the products that leave a lot of still edible time – and we couldn’t sell it after because of legal liability. I thought about your daughter and that she is on the cutting edge of social food reform.

  3. Congratulations to your daughtet! 🙂

    I have to say that I don’t remember mine, either. There were gowns, and my dad was there, and um, I think they gave out some papers … I think that’s about it. 🙂

  4. I would not want to use the restroom after the guy with all that asparagus…just sayin’. Also that picture is a treasure!

  5. franhunne4u says:

    Cats at the bar (a fellow Canadian) has the right picture for you:

  6. Tez says:

    I didn’t go to my official graduation ceremony because I thought it was a bit naff, so decided to have my own. I invited everyone who had helped me get through and handed out first-class honorary degrees to my closest and dearest supporters. My kids thought it was neat to get a fancy printed degree. My professor stood in as the President, my honours supervisor was the Vice Chancellor, who handed out the degrees and the convocation address was given by Virginia Woolf, aka my friend with a posh English accent. Not quite in the same league as Desmond Who-Who, but still great fun!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      That sounds perfect. My wife, who picked away at her degree over years of jobs and kids, declined her convocation. So we had a surprise one for her in our backyard. After I presented her with her degree on the platform I rigged up, she had to go down the Slide of Success. I had fun, anyway.

  7. pinklightsabre says:

    I think it is really just jackassery and you’ve got that down pat. And where they hay does that saying come from, down pat? I will find out when we settle into Scotland and track down some of our ancestors, and discover we’re both from outlaws, likely inbred. Or out of bread, again.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I never get tired of telling people my clan is Murray of Athol, and be careful how you pronounce it.

      • pinklightsabre says:

        That’s awful funny mister. Strange, waking up in Germany, drinking on the plane, eating, sleeping, waking up,drinking again–and it’s still sunny. I’m confused but invigorated on Murray of Isengard.

      • Paul says:

        Ha! My Dad had a story he loved to tell about when he used to deliver bread to retail stores. One country store had gasoline as well – Esso brand. They also had a large German Shepherd that was mean, mean, mean. The owners called it “Esso” but with their down east accent my Dad thought they said “A**hole” They used the German shepherd as a guard dog at night and it was supposed to be tied up during the day. Unfortunately my Dad did their delivery very early in the morning when the owners were there but not open for the public yet. A**hole was sometimes still loose and had chased my Dad and bitten him a number of times. The rural bread run was laid out in a large loop over 150 miles and it was not possible to serve the store at any other time. One day my Dad went into the store and asked if A**hole was tied up. He was assured the dog was restrained. As my Dad was going back to the truck with empty steel bread trays, A**hole came tearing around the corner and lunged for my Dad’s throat ,just as Dad stepped up into the truck. Dad swung the steel bread trays in self defense and A**hole hit them head fist in full flight , broke his neck, fell to the ground, flopped once and died. As Dad stood in the truck, calming his shaking and feeling sad because he loved animals, the shop owner’s wife came running from the store screaming (as far as Dad understood): ” You killed my Asshole! You killed my Asshole!”

  8. Congrats to her. I think I might know why you were passed over for valedictorian. Just a theory, mind you. But I might have some insight.

    My wife and I heard the Dali Lama speak once. We had shitty seats in the back and the amplification was poor so all we heard was “mumble-mumble-mumble-mumble-mumble-mumble…” It probably would’ve changed my life.

  9. Krista Wells says:

    Ross, I sat in the audience, rather than pay the $50 fine (ransom for my diploma) imposed for a library book that I had never taken out but, more to the point, had not returned. I remember being moved by Desmond 22’s words but I don’t remember any of the content now. I DO remember Teddy’s valedictorian speech though, or at least the part about the excessive drinking and the panty raids. I remember being embarrassed that he was our representative. What must Desmond be thinking of us? Oh how I wish Ross was our valedictorian. Truth!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Hi Krista. I bet Desmond doesn’t remember either. I don’t recall Teddy at all, not even panty raids. There were panty raids? Were we living in 1950s Riverdale? It’s probably good I wasn’t valedictorian. I would have said something smug and insufferable that, alas, everyone would remember forever. Hope you’re well.

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