Have the courage to do the things that make you uncomfortable. That was the advice Academy Award-winning writer Sarah Polley had for new Western graduates during autumn convocation.
On Oct. 19, the actor and filmmaker, who won the 2023 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for the film Women Talking, was given the degree of doctor of letters, honoris causa. Polley was among five eminent individuals conferred honorary degrees by Western, for their contributions across disciplines and endeavours.
Speaking to the graduates, Polley lauded their achievement and urged them to trust themselves in the future.
“I hope you can take a moment to thank yourself for how you carried yourself through to this moment, and note that you can rely on yourself in the future to hold your own hand as you make it to the finish line of the things that are important to you,” she said.
Polley, who was also nominated for an Academy Award as a screenwriter for Away from Her (2006) talked about the nature of advice.
“The advice I received which absolutely changed the course of my life four and a half years ago and became the title of my first book was this: ‘run towards the danger’,” said Polley.
Recounting how she suffered a concussion eight years ago, Polley said the incident left her unable to work or care for her two children.
“After three-and-half years of struggling on and off to keep up with daily life and a very modified existence, I sought help at a clinic. I was advised to stop tracking my symptoms and start paying attention to my recovery times. I’ve spent so much of my life checking in with myself to see how I was doing in the face of hard times, and it has sent me down rabbit holes of focusing attention on what isn’t right, what felt off. Rarely had I paid attention to the moments of climbing up and out of struggle and into the light,” she said.
The former child actor, known for her role in Road to Avonlea, said, “The doctor who treated me said, early in my meeting with him ‘if you only remember one thing from our meeting today – remember this – run towards the danger.’ I was told that I should now view symptoms not as something to be avoided, but as opportunities to increase my threshold of tolerance. That I must learn how to run into the discomfort instead of away from it.”
“I had the courage to do the things that made me uncomfortable – to not listen to my anxiety as though it were my gut, to not listen to my body when it told me I couldn’t do something,” Polley recalled.
To her audience, Polley said they should bear in mind that, as they begin the next chapter of their lives, they should be willing to test themselves, push themselves and prove themselves.
“If it is not relevant to you, I hope you shove this advice away with gusto, and hear, without anxiety or reservation your own voice, your own advice to yourself, which will always be the most reliable,” she added.