In a three-decades-long career that has taken him to countries plagued with war, famine and disease, Dr. James Orbinski has learned that caring about the things that matter in life is an opportunity we all have.
We have one planet, Orbinski told the Brock University graduating class of 2018 Monday during the first ceremony of Spring Convocation, and we’re not taking care of it.
“I believe we not only have an ability to respond to the things that matter, but a responsibility to do so,” said Orbinski, the Director of York University’s Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research who received an honorary degree from Brock Monday morning.
During his convocation address in front of graduands from the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, Orbinski said weather disasters, global health crises and increasingly complicated geopolitical tensions are among the concerns we need to take seriously.
“Human pressures on the planet are at risk of triggering abrupt and irreversible changes with potentially catastrophic outcomes for human societies,” he said. “Good planets, even slightly damaged ones, are tough to come by. This is our only home, and yet we’re changing our planet so that it is unliveable for many, and especially those who are the poorest and already the most marginalized.”
Orbinski’s remarkable career has taken him to some of the world’s most impoverished and war-torn regions.
He served as Chief of Mission to Rwanda with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders during the 1994 genocide, for which he was given the Meritorious Service Cross, Canada’s highest civilian award, as well as the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada. He also accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of Doctors without Borders in 1999 while serving as the organization’s president.
In 2004, Orbinski co-founded Dignitas International, which researches health systems and clinical practices and now supports more than 300,000 people with full treatment for HIV and AIDS in Malawi.
He challenged the Brock students to “focus your mind, your time and your talent on the things that matter.”
“Courage begets courage. May you never be silent on the things that matter, never be afraid to listen and always step up,” he said, encouraging the graduating classed to be engaged citizens.
“That means fundamentally caring about the things that matter. It means being unafraid to explore and lead on the things that matter to our world. And it means stepping up and stepping out. Silence in the face of what matters, is the greatest of human failures.”
Brock University’s Spring Convocation resumes Tuesday with 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. ceremonies for the Faculty of Social Sciences.
Receiving an honorary doctorate and delivering the Convocation address in the morning will be Hassan Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress. Yussuff became a union member soon after immigrating from Guyana in the 1970s and was elected union chair at the age of 19. He climbed the ranks of the Canadian Auto Workers, eventually becoming the organization’s first Human Rights Director.
All of the Convocation ceremonies are free to attend and no tickets are required. Parking is free for guests throughout the week. For those who can’t make it to the Brock Campus for Spring Convocation, the ceremonies will be streamed at brocku.ca/livestream