Honorary Doctorate from the Royal Military College

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Presentation of an Honorary Doctorate from the Royal Military College

Kingston, Thursday, May 20, 2010

Before I begin, I would like us to take the time to meditate on and honour the memory of Colonel Geoff Parker of the Royal Canadian Regiment, who was killed two days ago by a suicide bomber in the heart of the Afghan capital, Kabul.

It is with the utmost respect that we salute the commitment of Colonel Parker, who paid the ultimate sacrifice while proudly serving in Afghanistan. He died in the deadliest attack NATO troops have suffered in Kabul this year, killing and wounding dozens of soldiers and civilians. Colonel Parker had a special link, as you know, with RMC, having earned two master degrees from your institution.

We will never forget him.

Let us take a minute of silence.

I am very proud and humbled to receive this honorary degree from a traditional institution as renowned as the Royal Military College of Canada.

Located on a magnificent, historic site, this institution is not only an important centre for military training, it is jewel of higher education and research in Canada, notably because of its military and civilian personnel.

A number of the soldiers and aides-de-camp who support me in my duties—including Major Chantale Brais, who is here beside me, and Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-François Simard, who is also here with me today—are former officer cadets who studied at the College.

And they have very fond memories of their years at the college and of the professors and superior officers who influenced their career and their lives.

They talk about the camaraderie that made their adventure here so unforgettable, and about the College’s strong focus on bilingualism and gender equality. They also talk about the difficult training, the demanding sports and academic activities, and—most of all—their immense feelings of fulfilment and pride in having given their all and succeeding.

Since my arrival here, where an entire generation of young people works hard every day to excel in endurance, knowledge and virtue, I have come to understand the depth of your commitment and the ties that unite you after these four years of learning, years of a rare intensity.

I am fully aware that I am in the presence today of young women and men who meet the highest academic, physical and military standards. In the presence too of leaders who will shoulder the responsibilities of command and who will lead by example in their words and actions . . . in English and in French.

As I inspected the Guard of Honour this morning, those whom I had the opportunity to speak with expressed their pride in this institution and their desire to represent Canada and the Canadian perspective in all its richness.

You have certainly not chosen the easiest path, and the life that awaits you outside this institution will be no less difficult.

You will face extremely tense and complex situations.

You will be required to put the interests of others before your own. And sometimes, the lives of others before your own.

The lives of the women and men under your command. Those too of the civilians—women, men, youth and children—you will be helping during your missions.

You are being asked to perpetuate a tradition based on truth, duty and valour, as indicated by your college’s motto.

These are noble values—in the purest sense—because they call upon the very best in us.

And I have seen these values embodied admirably by the members of the Canadian Forces I have had the pleasure—as Commander-in-chief—of working with and of seeing in action since the beginning of my mandate, nearly five years ago.

Starting with the Aboriginal veterans I accompanied during a spiritual journey to Europe in 2005, notably to the Canadian War Cemetery in Bény-sur-Mer, where so many of our Canadian soldiers are buried.

I am also thinking of the many soldiers, past and present, of all ranks and from every service, whose commitment, bravery, courage, selflessness, merit and—in some cases—sacrifice I have recognized during official ceremonies.

I am also referring to all those I met at the naval and military bases I visited during regional visits across the country.

Moreover, I will always remember the soldiers I went to visit on two separate occasions, in 2007 and in 2009, on the ground in Afghanistan, where some of you may be called to carry out the same mission.

We must not forget that these women and men left parents, children, spouses and friends to go to this trouble spot in the world and defend the democratic ideal all people should be allowed to aspire to.

I saw them building infrastructure that is essential to development we hope is sustainable in a country that has known so much misery.

I saw the partnership they have established with Afghan children and teachers in a number of schools in Kandahar province, which donated and helped build, and continue to provide materials.

I witnessed the quality of the dialogue they started with representatives from Afghan civil society during meetings I held with the provincial reconstruction team in Kandahar.

The challenges are enormous, the task monumental, and every injury, every loss, is felt with a heavy heart.

On many occasions, I have held and consoled fathers, mothers, life partners, children and comrades who have lost loved ones in Afghanistan and allowed me to support them on the tarmac at the military base in Trenton, as I will do at tomorrow’s repatriation ceremony for Colonel Geoff Parker, beside his family, loved ones, friends, and comrades-in-arms.

Moreover, on all the military bases I have visited, I have met your families and I listened to them talk about their lives, and the challenges and realities they are facing. And I have to tell you, I have the greatest respect for the support they give you and their pride in you.

Your families make enormous sacrifices, and I don’t think we can ever over-emphasize the contribution they make to the success of the Forces and the missions it carries out here at home and around the world.

I have just returned from a State visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Canadian soldiers are tirelessly working with MONUC under extremely difficult conditions to bring peace to a region of Africa where armed groups maintain a climate of terror and use sexual violence as a weapon of warfare.

A few weeks earlier, I was in Haiti, where Canadian soldiers, along with humanitarian organizations and with the help of the Haitian people, are working to meet the most urgent needs after the January earthquake, which devastated entire regions of the island and left it in ruins.

I have therefore witnessed the generosity of our soldiers, their courage and their willingness to contribute to the well being of populations in regions where it is imperative to re-establish and maintain peace, provide emergency assistance and/or take part in reconstruction efforts.

In Haiti, those affected described your efforts as a work of love.

And today I see that there is a whole new, talented generation on which the Forces and the entire country can rely.

You will hold decision-making positions, and I am confident that you will provide solid leadership and tireless support to the women and men you command.

Be a source of inspiration to others, as your predecessors have been to you.

And may the ideal of justice, peace and freedom they carried like a beacon—sometimes at risk to their very lives—reaffirm your commitment and guide you.

I am extremely proud to be your Commander-in-Chief and have been honoured to wear your uniform on a number of occasions.

I have always taken the responsibilities that are incumbent upon me very seriously.

I know that you are not born the Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces. You become it.

In this regard, I have counted on the Armed Forces Council, which I have met with several times, and on two commendable chiefs of the Defence Staff, General Hillier and General Natynczuk, to support me, advise me, and guide me.

I hold them in the highest esteem and am extremely grateful to them.

I would like to wish all of you receiving your diploma today a very productive career filled with great challenges and great accomplishments.

But more than this, I wish you all a very full life, one you can look upon with satisfaction and pleasure for having contributed to making the world a more peaceful, fairer and more human place.

Thank you very much.