'Taking risk is good'

(Edmonton) Michael Kirby says he was in his late 20s when he faced a dilemma that later changed his life. He could accept a job offer to work as a chief of staff to the then newly elected premier of Nova Scotia in 1970 or continue on as a university professor. 

It was a friend who encouraged him to ‘“go ahead. Take a risk. Don’t be afraid to fail. Be willing to take on a challenge in an unfamiliar environment. The way your university training has taught you to think through problems will help you succeed. It is not the things you do in life that you regret�it is the things you don’t do.”’

During his Nov. 16 convocation address to the U of A's 2011 fall graduating class at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, Kirby said that advice led him to start his political career. And with that counsel, he played a leading role on negotiating the repatriation of the Canadian constitution and the adoption of the Charter of Rights; he chaired the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, the Task Force on Atlantic Fisheries and Mental Health Commission. 

“In every case, I knew virtually nothing about the issue when I started. In every case, I took a significant risk of failure. In every case, I based my decision to take on the new challenge on the advice: “It’s not the things you do in life that you regret, it is the things you don’t do,”’ he said.
He told the graduating class that they now have the skills to do the same, and that the most important thing they’ve learned at university is how to think through problems in a logical, structured way.

“It’s this method of tackling problems that will remain with you long after you’ve forgotten most of the facts you learned in order to pass an exam. It’s this way of thinking that will enable you to successfully take on challenges in areas which have nothing to do with your formal education,” he said.
He urged the graduating class to reject the strategy of playing it safe in their professional lives.

“Being risk averse will cause you to miss what would otherwise be some of the highlights of your life. But the piece of advice I was given over 40 years ago applies as much to your private life as it does to your career.

“When you reach my age, and look back on your life, you will find yourself asking, ‘did my life truly make a difference?’ Not to make a difference at work, but a difference in the lives of your family, friends and fellow citizens,” he said.

Chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, Michael Kirby has had a distinguished career as a public servant. As deputy clerk of the Privy Council from 1980 to 1983, he was deeply involved in the negotiations that led to the patriation of the Canadian Constitution and the adoption of the Charter of Rights. As chair of the Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology while serving on the Canadian Senate, he co-wrote the first-ever national report on mental health, mental illness and addiction. Named an officer of the Order of Canada for his leadership on mental health and his contributions to public policy and good governance, Kirby has made an enduring difference in the lives of many Canadians.

To watch a live webcast of the 2011 fall convocation, click here.

A celebrated athlete and a dedicated social innovator, Rick Hansen will receive an honorary degree on Nov. 17 at 10 a.m. An outstanding educator, innovator and global citizen, Lawrence Chia-Huang Wang will receive an honorary degree on Nov. 17 at 3 p.m.