Mercer: Time to get out there, and fix my country

Paul Mayne // Western News

There are endless opportunities for today’s graduates, comedian Rick Mercer told graduates from the Faculty of Education and the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the Friday, June 13, morning session of Western’s 303rd Convocation.

“At this point in life, I know there must be a lot of unknowns,” Mercer said. “You spend your entire life wondering what you’re going to do with your life, and suddenly, you blink and you are wearing a cap and gown. Anything is possible, and that is what I wish for you and what I implore of you.”

Mercer spoke to graduates from the faculty of Education and the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the Friday, June 13, morning session of Western’s 303rd Convocation. Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LL.D.), upon Mercer for his more than 25 Gemini Awards for television writing and performance.

Mercer told graduates they must take the time to explore Canada, and get to know the issues in their own backyard, in order to realize their potential and tackle issues elsewhere.

“As you go forward, take the time to get to know your country,” he said. “There are two problems we face and there aren’t any solutions; we’re too big and there’s too few of us.

“We often don’t know our country and I beg of you to make that a priority as you go forward. Get to know all of it, not just its major cities. If you stand above the tree line, I promise you will love your country and you will make this a better country because you stand up for what you love.”

One of Canada’s top political satirist, Mercer is host and creator of The Rick Mercer Report, Canada’s most-watched television comedy. His weekly helping of topical satire, funny takes on the week’s top stories and Canada wide adventures makes this show, now in its 12 season, an audience favourite.

A native of St. John’s, N.L., he launched his television career in 1993 as one of the creators, performers and writers on the hit topical weekly show This Hour Has 22 Minutes. In 1998, he joined Gerald Lunz and Michael Donovan to create the satirical dramatic series Made In Canada, where he again starred and contributed as a writer. In 2001, his CBC Television special Talking To Americans became the highest rated Canadian comedy special of all time with 2.7 million viewers.

Mercer was given the Sir Peter Ustinov Award at the Banff Television Festival, named Journalist of the Year at the Atlantic Journalism Awards, Artist of the Year from the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council, and has received a number of Canadian Comedy Awards. He is the sole civilian recipient of the Canadian Armed Forces Commander Land Forces, Command Commendation in recognition of his support of Canadian peacekeepers.

In 2006, he and Belinda Stronach founded the charity Spread the Net, which raises funds to stop the spread of malaria by providing mosquito nets for African children. Mercer is also on the board of The Historica-Dominion Institute, an organization dedicated to promoting the study of Canadian history, identity and citizenship.

In October 2013, he received the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Center Award for Public Service. In February 2014 he was given the Comedy Icon Lifetime Achievement Award at Ottawa’s Cracking Up the Capital Comedy Festival. Mercer also received ACTRA Toronto’s 2012 Award of Excellence and the King Clancy Award from the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons.

In his citation, Western Education professor Alan Leschied said whether it is challenging Jann Arden on the CN Tower Walk, clinging to nothing but an umbilical cord; travelling to travelling to Newfoundland to tranquilize a herd of moose for science; volunteering, again in the name of science, to awaken a hibernating bear in Algonquin Park; or skinny dipping with Bob Rae, Mercer has taken his place as a Canadian humourist and social commentator of the first order.

“He has also championed numerous causes through his televised ‘rants’ that help channel public and political opinion. These rants often give voice to those who have lost theirs,” Leschied said. “Who can forget Mr. Mercer’s commentary in October 2011 It Gets Better, when he exclaimed ‘We have to make it better now. Three hundred gay and lesbian kids taking their own lives through bullying is 300 too many.’”

Whether it is taking his notoriety to advance understanding about climate change, supporting programs for HIV and AIDS care, anti bulling campaigns or saving lives made vulnerable by disease, Leschied added Mercer is indeed a national treasure.

“And as for uniting the country, at a time when divisiveness seems to define our national political character, Mr. Mercer’s observations through his poignant humour remain beacons of light in what he constantly reminds us, is a truly great and beautiful country,” Leschied said.

Mercer added graduates must not be afraid of challenging themselves.

“Whenever possible, surround yourself with the best people. If you are one of the smartest people in the room, it’s time to find another room,” he said.

“Your generation is one my generation and older generations will look to, to solve problems. I know you can do it and it will be a beautiful sight. Get out there, and fix my country.”

Also during the ceremony, the status of professor emerita was conferred upon Education professor Rebecca Coulter.