Governor General speaks of forgiveness, journalism

By Julia Rose Grady
Cole Harbour District High School
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

It was the struggle of the students of Cole Harbour District High School to overcome their problems and live down their reputation that prompted a visit from Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada on Friday, February 18th.

The focus of the visit by Clarkson, who was accompanied by her husband, John Ralston Saul, was an open forum with the graduating class. The event began with greetings from both Principal de la Mothe and Student Council President, Tracy Hawthorne, who welcomed Clarkson to "the home of the red, white, and blue." In an eloquent and heartfelt speech from Hawthorne, Cole Harbour High was proclaimed to be synonymous with home for the students and staff, "a place beyond stereotypes, a place without labels."

Her Excellency the
Right Honourable
Adrienne Clarkson,
Governor General of Canada

Clarkson then addressed the group, professing that forgiveness is the key to peace. She stated that "in Canada, we forgive," while other countries punish. Forgiveness, she said, "enables us to begin again." Referring to the Apartheid regime in South Africa, she cited Anglican Bishop Desmond TuTu's declaration that there can be "no truth without forgiveness". Clarkson proceeded to offer congratulations for the initiation of a school and community radio station, which she sees as a valuable effort to "control communication." She concluded by acknowledging a student gift on which was written, "You Rock. You've made my day." The Governor General returned this gift to the spectators, stating that it was indeed the students who "rock."

Following her introductory remarks, Clarkson invited questions from the audience which ranged from Joe Keefe's "How does it feel when they make fun of you on This Hour Has 22 Minutes? (to which she replied "humour is a good thing, lighten up"), to her thoughts on the importance of the Senate (Chris Turner). Concerning the Senate, Clarkson believes that the Senators play a role in reflecting on issues in the House of Commons. She says that it is an important political institution and it is wrong to judge it by its cost because the Senators work extremely hard.

Clarkson responded to a series of questions about constitutional changes and her role as Governor General. When asked "Si vous devez amender notre Constitution, quelle chose est la plus importante a changer selon vous et pourquoi?" (If you had to amend our Constitution, what do you think is the most important thing to change and why?), Clarkson responded with a somewhat curt "No." This left the poser of the question, Glenn Patriquin, with nothing to say. It was not until Patriquin was leaving the microphone that Clarkson said that she did not think that money should be spent on amending the constitution when we have so many real problems in society upon which we should focus our energy. However, when asked "Do you think that the expenditures of the office of Governor General are justified at a time when cuts are being made to social programs such as healthcare, education and social assistance programs and when Canadians are living and dying in the streets?" she replied that the office of the Governor General is an important part of Canadian society and has been for hundreds of years. Clarkson believes that we should be able to have both the position of Governor General and adequate social programs.

Perhaps the most light-hearted question came from Matt Baird, who asked what Clarkson's response would be if, while picnicking, a spaceship landed and from the spaceship emerged a little blue man who asked "What is Canada?" After laughing with the students, the Governor General said that she would define Canada as "a place where a lot of people can live freely."

In a later private meeting with the reporting staff of the Cava-Chronicle and the radio station, both Mme Clarkson and her husband Mr. Saul appeared at ease, even going as far as to snack during the interview. Clarkson fielded questions from the aspiring journalists about what it takes to make it in the profession, the official duties of Her Excellency, and the messages Clarkson brings about Canada when representing our country in other nations.

Clarkson's Cole Harbour High excursion left students hoping to see positive publicity in the media and they were not disappointed. Although several news sources focussed on the school's past troubles and concentrated on the idea that Clarkson came to the school simply because of the tension, most reports centered on the intelligent and educated questions posed by the inquisitive young adults. CHDHS students have often in the past felt animosity towards the news community due to the constant negative publicity and hope that future news will follow this recent trend of positive coverage.