June has always been one of those bittersweet months for me. As a former educator, I looked forward to my summer break, but as a high school teacher I was sad to say good-bye to another class of grade 12 students. The school where I taught was a small rural facility. That meant that the majority of the graduates would soon be packing up their belongings, saying good-bye to their family and community, and be heading off to larger centres that offered more opportunities.
For that reason, graduation needed to be not only an occasion for celebration, but also a memorable send-off. It was a time for offering words of wisdom and delivering inspirational speeches. I always hoped that whoever our guest speaker might be that he or she could provide some comments to which the students could relate. One year we were fortunate to have Saskatchewan’s Lieutenant-Governor Sylvia Fedoruk as our honoured guest. She delivered what I still consider to be one of the most uplifting and memorable addresses to the graduates.
Fedoruk was born in the Canora area and came from very humble beginnings. Her immigrant parents worked hard to overcome many hardships. Fedoruk attended a one-room school near Wroxton where her father taught 70 students from grades one to eight. He also expected the best from his daughter and she worked diligently to achieve top-notch marks. In 1941 the family moved to Ontario, but returned to Saskatchewan after the Second World War.
Fedoruk enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan where she excelled academically and earned high honours in physics. Her talents did not go unnoticed and she was quickly recruited for further studies where she went on to become a radiation physicist and pioneered the world’s first cobalt unit to treat cancer.
Her accolades went beyond academia, as she also shone when it came to athletic achievements. Furthermore, Fedoruk’s public service contributions were as impressive as her distinguished career. From 1988-1994, she acted as the first woman ever appointed as Saskachewan’s Lieutenant-Governor.
When speaking to the Invermay grads and all assembled that night, she related a simple story, but one that really resonated with me and hopefully all of the students. Fedoruk recalled a time when as a young woman she was touring the UK and found herself outside of Buckingham Palace looking in through the bars of the fence. Suddenly the gates started to swing open and the guards escorted an important-looking vehicle through them and into the inner courtyard. Fedoruk stood there wondering who might be in that car and what that meeting with Queen Elizabeth II might entail.
Fedoruk then went on to tell those assembled, “Next week as the Queen’s representative I will be in London, and I will be in one of those important-looking cars, going through those same gates where I stood as a young lady and I will be the one meeting the Queen.”
Her message to the graduates was simple—you never know where the path of your life might lead. But if you live a life of purpose and give your best efforts, you might be surprised at where you’ll end up.
Fedoruk passed away in 2012. Her obituary contained a quote by Helen Keller that very much reflected Fedoruk’s mantra in life and one that all of us could do well to live by. Keller said, “I long to accomplish great and noble tasks but it is my duty to accomplish small tasks as though they are great and noble.”
Happy Graduation to all the grade 12 students! May you face each small task in your lives with diligence and purpose as you travel the path to wonderful destinations!