Gerry Turcotte

Gerry Turcotte

Gerry Turcotte is the president at St. Mary's University in Calgary.

Remembrance Day is a powerful time for many, one where we are called on to honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. As a long-time volunteer at Remembrance events, one of the minor, and comical, issues I have dealt with is the disappearing poppy.

If a change is as good as a holiday, then I have been on vacation lately, big time. After deciding to retire as president of a university, I found myself called back to the role in a different city and context. Not as big a change as when I left Australia to return to Canada, but still different.

I have indulged in a passion for puns throughout my career. Despite feeling gleeful about this on one level, I also remember an army of English literature professors intoning that puns were the lowest form of wit. While there are legions of people who deeply oppose puns on principle, there is an equally vast array of fans that believe in them at all costs.

There is a wonderful cartoon that shows a driving instructor testing his young charge.

The Vatican Museums comprise 54 galleries of which the Sistine Chapel is undoubtedly the most famous. They exhibit more than 20,000 significant pieces of art, a mere fraction of the works in the collection of over 70,000. These include sculptures, paintings, maps and more, with the pièce de resistance being Michelangelo’s Volta della Cappella Sistina, a High Renaissance art masterpiece painted in only four years by the 33-year-old prodigy.

At a recent convocation ceremony, I closed my commencement address with a reference to one of my favourite stories: that of the famed astronomer Harlow Shapley and his discovery that Argon atoms, which make up one per cent of our atmosphere, never fade. They recirculate indefinitely.

As a bilingual person I have often written about the joys and dangers of “linguistic passing.” Depending on where I found myself, I could remove or change my accent — speaking Québécois French when I needed to, Europeanizing my French on occasion and then making my French tones disappear in an English context. My goal was to disguise my origins if I sensed hostility, back when linguistic tensions were at their worse in la belle province. I confess to thinking that this was unique to Canada so was surprised to discover, as I travelled to over 50 countries, that virtually every place has a version of this, with dialects, patois, accents and more, either strictly regulated, judged or celebrated.

I recently had the honour of joining a small delegation of American and Canadian Catholic university presidents on a trip to Rome. The purpose of the meeting was largely to introduce the leaders of post-secondary institutions to the many important bodies that support educational initiatives at the Vatican.

Listening is often referred to as an art. Reams of books have been dedicated to defining “how” to listen, and even define “types” — deep listening, full listening, critical listening, therapeutic listening etc.

Today’s social media world has made abbreviations seem more ubiquitous than ever.

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