Address from the Graduate – Sanja Kamalini Fernando

Each year, the Registrar’s office selects, for each day of convocation, an accomplished graduate to present an address to the graduates. On day two of graduation, the honour went to Sanja Kamalini Fernando of Calgary, Alberta. For those who could not attend, Sanja has kindly allowed the Voice to print her speech in its entirety. Watch next week for another graduate address. You can also watch Sanja’s speech via online video through the link on this page:

Mr. Chairman, Mr. President, Distinguished guests, Members of the Platform party, Graduates. Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour to stand with you today as a fellow graduate of Athabasca University and to look to the future together. It is a privilege to represent the class of 2006. I’m humbled as I realize the magnitude of this privilege.

First let me say to each of you, “congratulations!” Words seem inadequate to express the determination and sacrifice that has enabled this achievement. We have made brave decisions, worked hard and persevered to the end. Now we can finally say, “We made it!”

I’m sure all of us have significant people who have been part of this journey. Speaking for myself, I know I would not be here if it were not for the understanding and support of my husband and two daughters. This graduation, no doubt, is a fruit of our work. But, it is as much a testament to the friends and family members who have encouraged and supported us through this time.

Be they parents, children, spouses or friends, these individuals put up with our insecurities, our irrationalities, and our anxieties. They believed in us when we began to doubt ourselves, and for these things they deserve our lasting gratitude. Let’s give them a round of applause.

We are a diverse group here. Some of us started our programs straight from high school. But many of us have entered our AU program at a later stage, as mature students, where we have had to deal with a whole different set of challenges. The mission statement of AU highlights its dedication to the removal of barriers that restrict access to University-level studies for adult learners. They promise to facilitate those who otherwise would have succumbed to the arbitrary road blocks present in the conventional education system. This is exactly what AU did for me. Being a mature student myself it has allowed me to pursue a degree without giving up the other important roles in my life.

It allowed me to be a student as well as a mother. It empowered me to change careers. And most of all, it enabled me to realize my dream.

My dream from a very early age was to be a nurse. And that is exactly what it was for a very long time – just a dream. Ministering to those in pain seemed the natural thing to do and it always gave me great pleasure. While growing up in Sri Lanka my parents recognized this trait in me. They encouraged me and my sister to run a rudimentary wound clinic from our home for the poor. I still remember the line ups out side our gate every evening and the gratitude that shone in the faces of these people. This was as close as I ever got to being a nurse.

Due to the lack of a professional nursing program in my country of origin, I opted to complete a degree in biology. Subsequently life took many different turns. After arriving in Canada, I realized new horizons were open for me. The flexibility of the AU @ MRC program gave me courage to re-launch into university studies.

I don’t think there is anyone here that can say it was all easy. We have each had our own unique struggles that we had to battle through. Being a wife and mother brought an interesting perspective to my student life. I was constantly torn between doing my studies and attending to my family — should I write up my paper or go watch my daughter at her swimming lessons? Many of you are parents just like me, and you would agree, that striking that balance was the hardest thing we had to do.

To add to the confusion, I’m a recent immigrant to Canada. That gave a whole different twist to my experience. What was just common knowledge and second nature to all of you who have been born and bred in this part of the world, was all new to me. I had to re-learn even little things like how to address my teachers. I didn’t seem to know the strangest things and it often put me on the spot. For instance, when Mr. James D’Arcy called me the other day and asked if I would give the graduate address, I said “sure!”, but in my mind I was saying “what on earth is a graduate address?”

Well… what ever our individual struggles were, we have overcome them and achieved our goals. We have done so by clinging to two main things: Hope and Purpose. They have upheld us through times of self doubt and pain. They have helped us over come our barriers, expand our knowledge, and succeed.

What is hope? According to Samuel Smiles, “hope…is the companion of power, and the mother of success; for who so hopes, has within him the gift of miracles.” Look at what we have accomplished. The constant hope of realizing our dream that refused be snuffed out, encouraged us on. This is a lesson not limited to the academic world. As we go our separate ways let us never forget this. In the future we may doubt ourselves again. But let us constantly remember what we have accomplished today and realize there is always hope.

Just like hope, a sense of purpose was equally important as we overcame our obstacles. It gave us the reason behind everything and the strength to persevere. For me personally, the power to go on came from my faith in God. I believe choosing to live for something greater than ourselves is the best decision we can make in our lives. We all have a purpose behind everything we do. But it is only in choosing to serve a purpose beyond our selves that we find true fulfillment.

Today as we stand on the threshold of our new careers, let us take time to identify this purpose in each of our lives. What we choose to be our purpose will be the power-house behind our future decisions. It will be the passion with which we will serve society. And it will be the foundation on which we will build our lives. I encourage you to keep finding dreams to accomplish, hope to sustain you and a purpose to drive you. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us”. Your potential is endless. Congratulations again on a job well done!

Photo, courtesy Blaise MacMullin