posted on May 31: Short urges graduands to shoot for the stars


[img_inline align=”right” src=”” caption=”Peter George, Martin Short “]He mixed comedy with common sense, wit with wisdom.

McMaster's newest honorary degree holder offered Humanities and Arts & Science graduands advice, best wishes, even a nine-step program, all wrapped in his humourous dead-pan style.

McMaster alumnus Martin Short delivered the Convocation address yesterday to about 1,500 graduands and their families and friends gathered at Hamilton Place.

While the speech was punctuated with satire and sendups, Short conveyed congratulations and a heart-felt message to McMaster's newly minted alumni to pursue their dreams.

“Don't be afraid of trying, of dreaming,” said Short, who received a Doctor of Letters.

At a news conference held prior to Convocation, Short reflected on the impact of his years at McMaster. His dream was to become a doctor.

“By the time I left I was an actor,” said Short.

“When I think of McMaster I think of four years of absolute new experiences, a separate existence, expressing all aspects of life and leaving on a totally new journey. If it hadn't have been for Mac, I wouldn't have gotten into the business.”

Short said in his early 20s, the idea of hailing from Hamilton and becoming an actor seemed “highly unrealistic.” Short credited the people, the encouragement he received and the opportunities to experiment with helping him launch his acting career.

“I don't think I would have had the nerve to do it,” he said. “The atmosphere of Mac at the time…there was an active theatre scene, it encouraged the students to take more on their shoulders. It was a very creative period.”

In his speech to graduands, Short quoted Walt Whitman, Aldous Huxley and Winston Churchill, reiterating his theme to take risks to achieve goals.

“A philosopher once said, 'Ambition and love are the wings of great actions.' So my first piece of advice to you this afternoon, because as you can imagine, being a clown comedian, I'm just brimming with wisdom…is to encourage you to risk great visions; ones that are in keeping with the legacy that you take with you from this place. And I hope that you will give free reign to your ambition, so that you can achieve your vision.”

Short told the audience success is achievable if people are willing to work for it. Success in a career is only a small part of determining success in life, he added.

“The difficulty is not to avoid failure, but to avoid unrighteousness. Huxley said that experience is not what happens to you, it is what you do about what happens. You cannot predict what will occur, but you can visualize the future and then you can take charge of it. Life only becomes uncontrollable when you no longer lead it, but it leads you.”

Short said one of the ways he achieves balance in his life is to use “Marty's Nine-Category System” — “simply treating your life as if you're taking nine challenging courses at University; each one of equal importance” — and constantly evaluate how to make each category better.

He defined the categories as oneself, immediate family, original family, friends, creativity, money, career, discipline and lifestyle.

Short told the audience “a perfect plan does not exist in life” but that he knows “great things are not achieved by cynics; they are achieved by believers. Pessimism is for the faint of heart; the doers, the leaders will always be the optimists.”

Short urged the graduands to relish their memories of their time at McMaster and to maintain a “dignity level that is non-negotiable.”

Dr. Short: Martin Short listens while President Peter George introduces him to the audience at yesterday's Convocation.

Photo: Ron Scheffler

(Editor's note: See Martin Short's Convocation Address for the full text of his remarks.)