by Wilfred Langmaid
28 April 2002 --
It was one of those bits of serendipity which I largely frittered away by virtue of being starstruck. Of course, hindsight gives me the gumption to wish I had said far more and made the experience far richer. After some 20 years of seeing Bruce in concert whenever possible – ranging from steamy 80s shows in Fredericton, New Brunswick and Regina, Saskatchewan and a late 90s gem in Portland, Maine to intimate solo triumphs in Toronto, Ontario and Saint John, New Brunswick, I was going to get a chance to actually meet him!
I had just begun work at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton and St. Thomas University, Fredericton as sessional lecturer and chaplain when I heard the word that Bruce was going to be honorary degree recipient at STU’s graduation. He was going to deliver the convocation address, to boot! I was thrilled, and I started to make plans.
In academic garb with the other faculty, I drew the courage to approach Bruce before the ceremony and quickly hand him an envelope of material I had written about him through the years as a freelance music journalist in The Daily Gleaner (a daily based in Fredericton) and The Anglican Journal (the Toronto-based magazine of the Anglican Church of Canada). I mumbled something about having had great respect for him and his work for many years, and slunk away.
As I looked back a few minutes later, Bruce was still there, now standing alone and looking incongruous in his honorary academic finery. I was kicking myself for not staying longer and talking, and was going to head over that way again.
Just then, the parade marshal called us into position. To add insult to injury, Bruce forgot the manila envelope I had so lovingly prepared and haltingly given as he was hustled into line.
Nearly 3 years after the fact, I have the privilege of sharing Bruce’s inspired words at the graduation that day with participants in The Cockburn Project.
I was most grateful that a kind person saw fit to make me a copy of his address that day, and I am doubly happy now that these inspired words will reach a wider audience.
The week before the graduation, I did a commentary on CBC television. It focused on the fact that there is a lot of evil, sadness, and wrong in what fellow Canuck Colin Linden aptly calls this "sad and beautiful world". At the commentary’s end, I drew encouragement from the fact that STU saw fit to give a doctorate to a man who extolls us to "kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight". Bruce has done that for decades, and I thank him for his courage and his example. Now, if I had only been able to say that when we met that day ...
Follow the link to view
'In Bruce's Hand -
the St. Thomas
Convocation Speech at St. Thomas University
10 May 1999
"I'm deeply honoured to be the recipient of this doctorate! I've been trying
to develop as an artist and a human being [all] these many years and it's
extremely gratifying to have some[one] notice these small efforts-to offer
this expression of solidarity.
All of the other being honoured here today are better speakers than I am, but
I've been asked to say something too and I welcome this chance to share time
and space and some thoughts and observations with you all.
You're about to go out into the world, as they say. You're getting ready to
go out and be citizens of this country and this planet. That's an exciting
position to be in. A little scary, maybe more than a little, but exciting.
Your point of view is going to change with the experiences that come your way
but I hope the sense of adventure stays with you always."
[Note: Read the complete Convocation Speech here. And click the speech image above to take you to the speech pages written in Bruce's own hand, and submitted to the Project by Wilfred Langmaid....How's THAT for serendipity?]
This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.