Singer lights up convocation ceremonies Buffy Sainte-Marie receives honorary degree from Carleton University
Buffy Sainte-Marie beat the microphone like a drum and sang a cappella yesterday in a moment at once apt and inspiring.
It came during Carleton University’s final spring convocation ceremony. Over the course of four days, the school granted degrees to more than 3,700 students and gave honorary doctorates to five notable people, including Ms. Sainte-Marie.
During her spirited address, which was book-ended by hearty standing ovations, Ms. Sainte-Marie admitted she has always been a consummate bibliophile and information-seeker.
“I have found that my Academy Award has not been nearly as useful as my library card or my college degree or my Internet connection,” she told graduates, their families and friends gathered in the school’s cavernous fieldhouse.
Her appearance at the ceremony came at the end of an historic week for Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to aboriginals on behalf of the Canadian government for the legacy of residential schools.
John Medicine Horse Kelly, from the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton, introduced Ms. SainteMarie, who was joined on stage by Minnijean Brown Trickey, a U.S. civil rights activist who received an honorary degree earlier in the week.
“They are among the people who have fought for aboriginal equality in Canada, the U.S. and around the world,” he said, gesturing to the two women standing at the centre of the stage.
Mr. Kelly said it would take him a half-hour to list Ms. Sainte-Marie’s multitude of accomplishments, which include 17 albums, a Juno award and a stint on Sesame Street.
“This is no ordinary woman standing before you,” he said.
In addition to Mr. Kelly’s introduction, Carleton’s aboriginal cultural liaison officer, Irvin Hill, sang an honour song for the legendary singer-songwriter.
Ms. Sainte-Marie told the new graduates their university years have kept them so busy that they may not yet realize their vast potential. “The big secret in life is that we can all do more than others know and many of us waste a lot of our time just waiting for permission.”
Having risen to fame against the backdrop of the turbulent 1960s — during which she penned her most famous song, Universal Soldier — Ms. SainteMarie’s address came with a call to revolution.
“Amidst these changing times, will you continue to learn, to teach, to nurture those brilliant little brainstorms you feel inside into power plants of opportunity to feed the world, to inspire other generations, to rage against the good ol’ matrix whose desire is to enslave your energy in exchange for their coins?” she said.
The a cappella verse she sang came from Up Where We Belong, which she composed for the 1982 film, An Officer and a Gentleman. It won her the 1983 Academy Award for best original song.
The ceremony awarded degrees to students from a range of programs, including arts, humanities and music.