McDonald: Success can be a matter of simply saying ‘yes’

Face your dreams, finish what you start and you will be amazed where it will take you, said Bob McDonald, science journalist and host of CBC Radio’s award-winning program Quirks & Quarks.

McDonald spoke to graduates from the Faculty of Education and the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the Friday, June 14, morning session of Western’s 301st Convocation.

Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LL.D.), upon McDonald in recognition of his outstanding career in science journalism.

“Always say ‘Yes,’” McDonald said to the crowd, noting he owes his success not to an education or qualifications, but to his willingness to embrace challenges and opportunities as they came in his career.

“Say ‘yes,’ especially (to) something you’ve never done before, even if it’s something that scares you. Face your dreams and start pointing yourself toward them, and any step that gets you closer to that dream, take it.”

A well-known journalist with a print and broadcast career that has spanned more than three decades, McDonald started a science career as a demonstrator at the Ontario Science Centre in 1972. He then travelled to California with a press pass, reporting on NASA’s first space probes, after which he was widely sought out for commentary on space missions. Eventually, he became a staple science correspondent, working for various outlets, including the CBC.

For six years, from 1986-92, McDonald hosted and produced Wonderstruck, a Gemini Award-nominated science program for children. He has hosted a variety of science or technology themed programs, including the special The Greatest Canadian Invention and the seven-part series, Water Under Fire. He is also the Gemini-winning host and writer of the children’s series Head’s Up.

McDonald has hosted Quirks & Quarks since 1992, a program that has a national audience of nearly 500,000 people. McDonald is also a regular reporter for CBC Television’s The National.

An Officer of the Order of Canada, McDonald has received many honours and awards for his promotion of science. He received the Michael Smith Award from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council the Sir Sanford Fleming Medal from the Royal Canadian Institute, and the McNeil Medal from The Royal Society of Canada.

McDonald is the author of three science books and has contributed to science textbooks, newspapers and magazines including The Globe and Mail and Owl Magazine. He is the author of several bestselling books, including Measuring the Earth With a Stick: Science As I’ve Seen It.

McDonald told graduates the doors of opportunity will present themselves and when they do, they must enthusiastically go through them, willing to accept a challenge.

“When you’re scared, you learn really fast. And when you think you’re not good enough, you work harder to be as good. And when you finish something after you’ve been scared, it feels good,” he said.

In his citation, Faculty of Education professor John Barnett called McDonald a champion of science.

“Bob has always accepted challenges as they are presented. He has been quoted as saying, ‘Always say yes to opportunity. Take a chance and beat the fear’ A proud Canadian, Bob’s calling includes letting his fellow countrypeople know about the many examples of pioneering science that are based in Canada,” he said.

“(He) has the rare ability to take complex scientific ideas and communicate them so that all can understand them better. His explanations demonstrate passion, enthusiasm, excitement, and commitment to the idea that science and technology can, and should, be used for good in the world and in the universe.”

McDonald added the other key to success is always finishing what you start.

“Face your dreams, finish what you start and you will be amazed where it will take you. Face your dream and be truthful about it. Be truthful to yourself; these are your dreams and you aren’t afraid of them.”

Also during the ceremony, the status of professor emeritus was conferred upon Education professor Derek Allison while the status of professor emerita was conferred upon Aniko Varpalotai, also of the Faculty of Education.