Presentation of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award
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Toronto, Tuesday May 24, 2011
It is an honour for me to present the Duke of Edinburgh`s Gold Award to so many deserving young women and men.
His Royal Highness created the Award in 1956 to inspire young people to serve in their communities. To expand their horizons. To embrace adventure. To dream new dreams.
What a lasting legacy this Award has given to all Canadians. It inspires our young people to make a difference. To reach higher and dream bigger. To embark upon a life-long journey of community service, skills development, physical fitness, exploration and adventure.
When I look back over my life, I am indebted to the many people who gave me a chance. And who encouraged me to look beyond the present to see what might possibly be.
I grew up in Northern Ontario in what some might call very “modest” beginnings. I got my first job when I was 9 years old. By the time I was 11, I was working in a mechanic’s garage.
My parents taught me to work hard and do my best in school. I enjoyed my studies. I liked my job. And I loved sports—baseball in summer, football in fall, and hockey in the winter.
But I never dreamed that, one day, all of it would eventually lead me to Harvard. You see, a Harvard grad was looking for scholar-athletes. He knew another Harvard grad, who in turn, knew me.
Those two men gave me a chance. A chance that a kid like me could only dream about. A chance I wish for every girl and boy across Canada and around the world. A chance that this Award inspires young people to turn dreams into reality.
Not only did those two Harvard grads give me a chance, my entire community helped me succeed. Even the mechanic I had worked for pitched in, finding a car to help me get back and forth to Boston.
It didn’t stop there. People continued to challenge me to reach even higher. When I graduated from Harvard, the Rotary Foundation Fellowship blessed me with the opportunity to go to England and study law.
People believed in me—an ordinary kid from Northern Ontario. They inspired and encouraged me. And they contributed to the man I am today.
I tell you this story not to boast or to brag. But to underscore what this Award is all about. That anything is possible. That you can reach beyond yourself. That you can set lofty goals and dream big dreams. And that you can strive to make them real.
To do what George Bernard Shaw intended when he said, “Some people see things as they are, and wonder ‘why?’ We dream of things that ought to be and ask ‘Why not?”
As governor general, one of my primary objectives is to inspire all Canadians to a richer level of volunteerism. A higher level of community involvement. A deeper level of public service.
I hope to encourage all Canadians to recognize the true potential in young people so they have a chance to succeed. To give of themselves to help others realize their dreams, just as people did for me so many years ago.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award requires people to set their own goals. To challenge themselves. To take initiative and responsibility for their own success. To persevere when times get tough.
As its recipients, you have joined an exemplary group of people who have demonstrated that they are ready to reach for the stars. That they are focussed to succeed. Inspired to dream. Dedicated to serve.
Indeed, 91% of the 400,000 Canadians who have received the Award since 1963 continue to volunteer in their communities from coast to coast to coast.
Winston Churchill once said, “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.”
You are surely making a life by what you are giving. You are determined to make a difference. You are travelling on a road of community service. You are looking beyond your own capabilities, confirming that mental or physical ability or social circumstances should never bar someone from achieving his or her desired pursuits.
On behalf of all Canadians, I sincerely commend and congratulate you for that.
And I would encourage you to remain true to the courses you have set. I would urge you to continue reaching beyond the here and now. To continue serving others as you would hope they would serve you. To continue to dream big and to do all you can to help others succeed. To continue to seek new adventures and to explore unbeaten paths. And to continue to recognize a need, and then to be ready to answer the call.