Michael McLuhan’s Graduation Address to Students of Marshall McLuhan Secondary School, Toronto, June 28, 2017


Michael McLuhan’s Graduation Address to Students of Marshall McLuhan Secondary School, Toronto, June 28, 1017

Graduands, mentors, teachers and parents,

The epitaph on my father’s grave marker is a quote from the Gospel of John: “The truth shall set you free.”

Maybe so but as Sen. Murray Sinclair, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, once said, “The truth will set you free but first it will piss you off.”

I would like to start by offering all of you a heartfelt apology. As you begin to make the change to adulthood, to being taxpayers, it occurs to me that we are gifting you with a world in much worse shape than when we were born. While it is true that in my lifetime Indigenous persons have been granted the vote and are now accepted as fellow humans (sort of) and that women have been granted greater equality and opportunity (sort of), income inequality has been growing at an alarming rate since the mid eighties. This, after it had been decreasing steadily since the thirties. This is what happens when you trust old white men to run the world. Sadly, I find myself categorically in their company.

That said, I want to ask you to remember that no matter what comes to dominate your lives, caring matters. Your caring counts. If members of my generation had not fought, putting their bodies as well as their hearts on the line, for racial equality and justice, for women to have control over their destinies, their bodies, the world would be a far different place.

Contrary to the current thought rampant in the halls of power, Greed is Not Good. It puzzles me why we are supposed to accept that terribly rich people will act in our best interests if we grant them power. Is there anything in their past behaviour that would lead us to believe they would? The widening gap in income between those that have the most and those who have the least demonstrates irrevocably that the ‘trickle down’ theory of economic redistribution does not work. Whereas, (and here I will spout some heresy) when the union movement was on the rise and expanding, in the period just post war through to the Reagan Era, the income gap was at its smallest. Social programs such as universal health care, subsidized post-secondary education, the forty-hour work week and minimum wage came into being. Income taxes went up to pay for these things. Yes! Taxes increased dramatically. However, in a well governed society, corporations pay their fair share and those with more, pay more to help make the system fairer and more equitable. Taxation should be an effective if inefficient means of more fairly distributing wealth. Pay your fair share with a smile on your face. It is a sign of how well you are doing. It is your responsibility as a Canadian.

Stephen Colbert has said “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

The eminent constitutional historian Dr. Peter Russell and author John Ralston Saul have both made a strong case that Canada has not just 2 founding cultures, French and English. They strongly posit that the Indigenous peoples who occupied the land for somewhere between 13,000 and 30,000 years before the devastating European incursion, are also foundational to the very nature of our ‘Canadian-ness”.

An Odawa elder friend recently pointed out to me that to resolve differences we can either resort to negotiation or violence. (By the way, the Odawa people gave their name to our nation’s capital.) Incredibly the British utilized negotiation as the preferred path in dealing with our First Peoples. They thought that in the long run it would be cheaper but they were also motivated by the fact that, at the time, they were severely outnumbered. So in Canada, Indigenous Peoples were marginalized through a treaty process, whereas in the states blatant slaughter was the preferred method. (Anecdotally Pierre Trudeau is famous for commenting to someone who had complimented Canada on its resolving of territorial issues through non-violent means, “Yes, it is true. Where you slaughtered your Indians, we chose to starve ours to death.” But that is another story.)

Back to our brief recounting, this initiative resulted in The Royal Proclamation of 1763  which established the British definition of Indian Country. On these lands the Crown claimed sovereignty but it also decreed that the land was to be considered in the possession of the Indigenous peoples who occupied them (Wikipedia). It is this Proclamation which firmly formalizes the Nation-to-Nation relationship between the Crown and Indigenous Nations. In order to transfer ownership of the land to the Crown, the indigenous occupants had to cede it formally by way of treaty. This proclamation has been referred to as the Canadian Magna Carta.

The entire Province of British Columbia was recently confirmed to be unceded in the Supreme Court. There is much more to this story than what I am recounting here and it would serve you to read up on it for it will affect your lives increasingly in coming years. Briefly put, it is this jurisdiction over ancestral lands that will frame much of the conversation around environmental stewardship and land use. There was the belief when many of these treaties were negotiated that the First Peoples concerned would be wiped from the earth within a few short decades. Indigenous communities have been on the rebound since the twenties. These treaties are law and must be honoured even as federal governments of both Liberal and Conservative stripe would hope otherwise.

Our people, and you and yours are included in this, have violated every treaty that was made with our original inhabitants, the spiritual custodians of this land. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has made three judgements against the current government’s chronic underfunding of education to First Nation’s children and four judgements against that same government’s withholding of funding for children’s health care. These are legally binding judgments. So far the Government of Justin Trudeau has spent almost three quarters of a million dollars fighting the tribunal in court. Across Canada First Nations children are being denied access to needed medical treatment. Those same children receive sixty cents for every dollar a non-indigenous child receives for education. Here, in this great nation, there are 89 reserves without potable drinking water. Ladies and gentlemen, these actions define systemic racism. They are a blot on our collective character and I charge you to care about this. For some of you here I hope it will become your life’s mission.

Because I am addressing a predominantly Catholic audience, you must expect that I would quote Pope Francis. Here it comes…

“Racism today is the ultimate evil in the world. When Italians, Spanish or French turn back the boats of African migrants seeking a life, are they not like the inn keeper who told Mary and Joseph that there was no room for them and the infant Christ? These migrants are children of God and we are commanded to love them!”

Pope Francis went on to say “those who would dare to turn immigrants away, be they legal or undocumented, turn their backs on Christ himself! A racist is not a true Christian. A racist casts aside his humanity to become a beast, a demon! He is the embodiment and personification of evil, a Satan!”

Another quote from Pope Francis:
“Because Muslims, Hindus and African Animists are also made in the very likeness and image of God, to hate them is to hate God! To reject them to is to reject God and the Gospel of Christ. Whether we worship at a church, a synagogue, a mosque or a mandir, it does not matter. Whether we call God, Jesus, Adonai, Allah or Krishna, we all worship the same God of love. This truth is self-evident to all who have love and humility in their hearts!”

This brings me to the subject of political leaders who fan the fires of racism and xenophobia for political gain. In 1979-80 a combination of Conservative and Liberal governments encouraged citizens to sponsor what became known as Vietnamese Boat People. About 70,000 refugees were welcomed and integrated into our communities. The family who was brought to Uxbridge where I lived then, moved to a larger Vietnamese community in Toronto within two years. Their children returned though! Two are pharmacists, one is a lawyer and two are optometrists. Their parents had been tailors in Vietnam. They are ethnic Chinese. Racism drove them out of their homeland. In Uxbridge they opened a medical centre and they now employ more than a dozen local residents.

Had they been screened for Canadian Values as one recent Conservative leadership candidate suggested, they probably would not have made the cut. We would all be poorer for it.

The politics of division is racist to the core. No matter whose tongue it falls from, this attitude is not acceptable. You should not tolerate it. Take heed. A recent IPSOS Reid poll found almost 40% of Canadians they surveyed were sympathetic to screening immigrants for Canadian Values .

What to do?

Changing the world starts with the individual. Simple things. Sensible things. Be passionate!

Read a book. It is how you will learn about worlds other than your own. When you have them, read to your children. Read to them until they kick you out of their rooms and scream “NO MORE!”

Ride a bike or walk. If you must drive, drive a hybrid. Say no to fossil fuel consumption at every opportunity. Install solar panels. Support wind energy. Most of all consume less!

Volunteer. Volunteer for any cause you hold dear. Community access. LGBTQ2 rights. English as a second language courses. Your local hospital. Big Brother or Sister. Tutor needy students. A food bank or homeless persons hostel. The Canadian Cancer Society. Step out of yourselves for a few hours a week. What you will learn will astound you.

Here’s a challenge: Turn off all screens for two or three hours every day. You will be amazed what is going on in the world around you!

My friends, building a better world is your responsibility now. You are at an age where this rests on your shoulders. I started this talk with an apology. I will end it with an exhortation.

This is from the late great Jack Layton: “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world. ”

I thank you for putting up with me.

Michael McLuhan with a portrait of his father at Marshall McLuhan Secondary School in March, 2014.

2 Responses to “Michael McLuhan’s Graduation Address to Students of Marshall McLuhan Secondary School, Toronto, June 28, 2017”

  1. 1 alvechurch45

    Great address; deserves a wide audience as so much of it has universal relevance.


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