Just before the holidays an extraordinary speech was delivered by an extraordinary person. It is the most inspiring, hopeful and authentic speech I have heard in a long time.
It was the Valedictorian address at McMaster University. The speech was received with a standing ovation and a front-page story the next day in the Hamilton Spectator. It still brings tears to my eyes, even after listening to it several times.
The speech is not quite seven minutes long. Here is a guarantee from me: watching it will be the best seven minutes you will spend this week—possibly even this month. It has the capacity to change you. For me, it sets the stage for 2018—a new year of hope.
The speech was given by Kaitlin Debicki. Who she is makes her speech all the more poignant for me—Kaitlin is the daughter of Andrew and Wendy Debicki. Andrew was our much-loved colleague and staff member at Shalem. He was the leading person in Canada in WrapAround, and his work with us included supporting First Nations/Metis/Inuit communities to blend WrapAround with traditional practices. He died suddenly and unexpectedly on February 10, 2016.
Kaitlin’s heritage is Mohawk Wolf Clan from the Six Nations of the Grand River. She was adopted at birth by Andrew and Wendy, which meant, as she aptly puts it, that she grew up “with one foot in each canoe.” She did her Ph.D work at McMaster in indigenous story-telling. And all of that comes through powerfully in her speech.
In her speech, Kaitlin talks about what it is to be human. She talks about the importance of face-to-face relationships and of peace in the quest to be human. She says she is supported “by an extended web of kinship that buoys me, and that in turn allows me to lift up others.” She asks her audience to “consider the communities of the future.”
She enjoins her co-graduates to “humbly and bravely walk a path of learning, not only from each other, but also from the creation.” She talks about the peacemaker who successfully brought together warring nations into the Six-Nation Confederacy, and in that light about using our “reasonableness” today to satisfy the craving for peace that we all have.
She declares that it “takes courage to create; it takes vulnerability to offer the world something you’ve poured your own self into.” And she notes, “everyone here is going to have to join the conversation about indigenous peoples in Canada. None of us can sit this one out….”
Amen, Kaitlin. But these brief reflections pale; they do not do justice to her powerful, future-oriented, hopeful speech. Do take seven minutes to watch, listen and be inspired. And read the accompanying Spectator article about her journey.
Andrew could not talk with enough pride about any of his four children, all adopted. I know that he is speechless at the moment, bursting with a pride that knows no limits.
Let us all humbly and bravely walk with one another in peace in 2018.
Mark Vander Vennen, MA, M.Ed, R.S.W., is Executive Director of the Shalem Mental Health Network