June 13, 2019

Screen shot 2019-06-13 at 10.48.32 PMI didn’t attend my graduation from McGill, 35 years ago. I had a kind of a bad attitude towards higher education at the time.

This time, as I graduated in June with a Master of Forest Conservation from the University of Toronto, I decided to show up.

Morning broke dark and rainy. I had to get to campus early to pick up my gown and hood. My wife and daughter had tickets to Convocation Hall and would meet me after the ceremony.

I set out with two transit tokens in my pocket, intending, I thought, to ride the streetcar. But then as I walked along College Street, heading east, I just started to enjoy the rain. Fitting, I thought, that I sheltered myself with a National Post umbrella; the National Post buyout helped pay for my graduate degree.

As I walked I thought of the benefits of rain for our trees and forests; the ash and honey locust trees along College struggle in what foresters sometimes call “tree coffins. ” The trees grow out of little cement boxes cut in the sidewalk. These boxes leave little with room for tree roots, and offer little earth that could absorb rain water. Even so, the trees look okay.

As I walked I channeled my inner Nathan. Nathan was my colleague in the forestry program. He came to Toronto from B.C. He never rode transit or a bicycle, and certainly not a car or taxi. Nathan just walked everywhere.Screen shot 2019-06-13 at 10.47.37 PM

Considering the epic hikes Nathan pulled off during his time in Toronto, I figured I could walk three kilometres to school. Then I saw a streetcar pull up. I looked through the fogged-up windows and saw the crowds in there; I knew they’d be sweaty in the humidity and it made me doubly enjoy my walk. Saved a token, too!

I turned up St. George and just marvelled at the stately red oak, horse chestnut and London plane trees that line the U of T campus main drag. When I started in forestry I couldn’t even ID those trees. Then, fairly damp, I picked up my regalia, went into the hall, and got my diploma.

On the stage by the University chancellor and other dignitaries lay the U of T’s glittering gold mace. The program notes, “The brackets containing the bowl to the shaft incorporate small chased models of a beaver, together with the trillium motif.”

Lorna Goodison, Jamaica’s poet laureate, uncorked a beautiful speech that brought tears to my eyes.

My thanks go to my family and my fellow scholars, who supported me on this long journey. There were rainy days, and we got through them together. Screen shot 2019-06-13 at 10.47.49 PM