On granting an honorary doctorate to Shirin Ebadi at a special seating of the Convocation at the University of Toronto, on May 7, 2004
Today I returned to the University of Toronto. I approached the old Convocation Hall where my graduation ceremony had taken place five years ago. I took my seat. As memories of my graduation were about to surface, a colourful cast of the University of Toronto's “Presiding Officers” stepped out in neat costumes and my attention was instantaneously diverted.
Amidst the colourful cast which included the Honourable Vivienne Poy, Chancellor, Professor Robert J. Birgeneau, President and Dr. Thomas H. Simpson, Chair of the Governing Council of the University of Toronto, a tiny woman of no more than 5 feet made her way to the stage. I was instantaneously taken aback by how petite Ebadi is in real life.
Following the President's opening remarks and the Honourable James K. Bartleman, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario's greeting, Chancellor Poy conferred upon Ebadi the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa and Ebadi was hooded by Professor Pekka Sinervo, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science and Professor Shahrzad Mojab, Director for the Institute for Women's Studies and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto.
One by one, members of the audience rose to their feet to give Ebadi a standing ovation. It must have been the longest standing ovation ever. It was truly an emotional, inspirational and proud moment for all.
Next Ebadi stepped to the podium to deliver her Convocation Address. Next to her stood an interpreter who delivered Ebadi's speech in English. And so this little woman of no more than 5 feet began to speak and immediately I was taken aback by her demeanour and the agility and strength of her words. She exuded intensity and delivered each statement with insurmountable conviction and passion. Her display of energy and emotion made each word delivered resonate across the room like the beat of the drum that resonates long after the drum player has stopped playing.
She commenced her speech by praising the encounter of cultures and embracing cultural influences. Yet, she emphasized that in embracing influences, specificity must be maintained and warned of the danger of engulfing another culture. She spoke of democracy and human rights as values shared by all cultures and of terrorism as deplored by all cultures. She warned that lately in the name of combating terrorism, terrorism itself has become a tool to violate human rights.
She remarked that violence and terror must be deplored but they shouldn't be a tool for silencing and suppressing opposition. “Each act of aggression gives an even more hostile response. We have seen the legacy of violence and war for so many years. Let us endorse United Nations resolutions at once,” Ebadi called out.
Ebadi spoke of the tragedy of 911. Yet, she informed or reminded her audience that the legitimacy of Taliban was recognized only by the US and its allies, namely, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Quoting Descartes, Ebadi stated, “I think therefore I am. I beg you to doubt, doubt, and doubt everything. Our logic and our intellect are unconsciously manipulated so be ready to admit that your information may be partial or inaccurate.”
Ebadi distinguished between humanity's own mistakes and the religions to which they belong and in the end, she delivered a message of peace, “let us not emerge war. No one will appear victorious from such horrors.”
The audience quickly rose to their feet and applauded with all their will. The encounter with Ebadi had been only too short. Yet, her message had clearly moved her audience. One by one, the University's Presiding Officers made their way out of the Convocation Hall and the audience watched in admiration as their lady, Shirin Ebadi made her way out as well.
Farewell, Ebadi and thank you. I thank you for fighting for all of us for so many years.