Spring convocation: Rising to meet disability head on

(Edmonton) It was 1992 when Austin Mardon, then a young scholar in the early days of making a name for himself as an indomitable Antarctic explorer, was wheeled past the psychiatry sign at the University of Alberta Hospital after having been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

“I thought my life was over,” said Mardon, speaking to the 2011 classes of convocation graduate, medicine and dentistry students, while accepting an honorary doctor of laws degree June 10. “I’m glad to be able to stand here today, and tell you that a disability does not mean your life is over.”

Since then, Mardon has worked tirelessly to eliminate the stigma associated with psychiatric disorders. As a member of the Premier’s Council on the Status of Persons with Disabilities, his work has had a major impact on public policy and public perception. He is a member of the Order of Canada and a recipient of the CM Hincks Award, the highest award given by the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“It’s not easy at times to be the very public face of schizophrenia,” said Mardon. “I didn’t choose it, but I didn’t run away from it, or hide in the closet. Ultimately, that is how you will be judged in life. How did you rise to the challenges put before you? How have you given back to society for the blessings you have been given? And how happy have you chosen to be in the life you are given?”

Despite his illness, Mardon says he counts his blessings, which includes having been born in a country where he can access the medication he needs to make his illness manageable, and choosing to live as happy and healthy a life as he capable of leading.

“It’s not the life I would have chosen for myself when I was a new college graduate, but it is a life well worth living, and I hope that I am grateful for every second of it,” he said.

To read a full transcript of Mardon’s convocation address, click here.

To watch the entire June 10 convocation ceremony, click here.