A picture-perfect moment
With two Queen’s degrees in hand, what would make receiving a third special for a “good Alberta boy”, even if the honour was again bestowed by the hand of Chancellor Peter Lougheed? Dr. Mike O'Connor, Artsci’96, MSc’97, Meds’01, had a bold idea.
It was a warm spring day in 2001 as I stood with my family on Union St. waiting to line up for my graduation ceremony. My dad, the ever-vigilant photographer, was capturing the sights and sounds of hundreds of almost-grads who, like me, were anxious to celebrate the moment and then get on with their new lives.
“I’ve been thinking,” I said, “this will actually be the third time that I’ve been hooded by Chancellor Lougheed.” Being a “good Alberta boy”, and knowing all the great things he had done for us in the west, this fact made me feel especially proud. “I’m sure I’ll always remember this day, but I suppose for the Chancellor it’s just another day at the office.”
“You could change that,” my dad challenged. (My dad was always throwing out these sorts of challenges as my sister and I grew up, as if the fate of the world might somehow ultimately rest in our own young hands.)
“How?” I challenged back.
“Why don’t you make the day memorable for him, too?” he said.
Seeing the Irish grin on my dad’s face, my mum immediately stepped between us.
“Hang on a minute, guys,” she said. “Let’s not be doing anything that would upset the solemnity of this occasion. After all, it’s not every day that one is awarded a degree in medicine.”
Having been down this path many times before, my dad and I both chimed in with our standard “You’re right, mum” chorus, but the look that passed between us indicated that this was one pot of soup we wouldn’t be taking off the stove just yet.
When my mum excused herself to powder her nose, I borrowed my dad’s camera with the fisheye lens and quickly tucked it under my gown.
“Tell mum that I’ll see her right here after the ceremony,” I said. Then I left to get into line in alphabetical order with the other soon-to-be grads.
For the next hour we all sat respectfully while the Chancellor “knighted” the graduates, repeating over and over, “Rise, Bachelor of Science” or “Rise, Master of Arts.”
How boring for him, I thought. He must have done this thousands of times, but how could he ever remember any of the graduates?
As our class’s turn approached, I reached under the gown and made sure the camera was turned on and the exposure was set for the dim lights of the auditorium, noting that without a flash the shutter speed was going to be too long for a really sharp picture.
Hearing my name, I stepped onto the stage to receive my hood. Kneeling before the Chancellor, I felt the weight of his hand on my shoulder, and the sudden responsibilities that were to be mine in my chosen profession. I felt the energy with which he had accepted similar responsibilities in a long and storied career, and I saw the glint in his eye that said, to me personally, “Well done, Doctor of Medicine, now go and do your own thing.”
As I rose, I reached under my gown and pulled out the camera. I could hear my mother gasping from the third row.
Instead of walking off, I bent over, put my arm around the Chancellor and said, “Thank you. This is the third time we’ve done this, so I think that deserves a picture to remember the occasion, don’t you?”
He laughed. “Why not?” he said.
Years later, my dad and Peter Lougheed, now retired as Chancellor, were discussing Queen’s and their special experiences at the University. My dad mentioned the picture incident, and Peter said he still remembered that occasion, as it had provided a welcome diversion in the otherwise routine duties of the Chancellor.
The hasty photograph turned out to be a little blurry, but my memory of that day remains tack sharp. And as for me, I just feel really good about being remembered.
I’m sure Chancellor Lougheed would feel good about being remembered, too.