NOW editor/publisher Alice Klein has been presented an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Trent University. The honour, in recognition of Klein’s social activism and entrepreneurship, was awarded during the university’s convocation ceremonies on Thursday (June 6).
Klein was among six recipients celebrated by the university this year. The other recipients include Indigenous rights activist Cindy Blackstock and former Toronto Star editor Michael Cooke.
Klein’s involvement in politics and social justice goes back to her undergraduate days and editing role for the early feminist publication The Velvet Fist. Later, Klein worked in student politics and the campus newspaper at York University before launching NOW Magazine with co-founder Michael Hollett in 1981.
Her dedication to fierce, independent journalism has continued ever since as a former president of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and board member of the Washington, D.C.-based Association of Alternative Newsmedia.
Says Klein, “It is tougher now than ever to be creating cool and interesting media that is both self-sustaining and continuously challenging of the mainstream – let’s face it, patriarchal – media narrative. The honorary doctorate being bestowed on me by Trent University has reminded me that it is also so joyful and inspiring and such a privilege. I am beyond thankful.”
What follows is video and text of Klein’s acceptance speech. Congratulations Dr. Klein!
Mister Chancellor, Mister President, members of the graduating class, faculty, family and friends:
I would like to start with a special thank you to Chancellor Tapscott, whom I first met as a fellow student activist during our university days.
And thank you so much to this entire Trent University community for this incredible honour. These short moments that we are spending together will be a source of joy and pride that I will carry for the rest of my days.
And thank you also for this impressive and progressive place of learning that is committed to rethinking how we live on this land our Indigenous sisters and brothers kindly share.
Thank you for being a beacon of hope in this fake news, anti-intellectual time. And most of all, thank you, graduating students for all the years of blood, sweat and tears you put in before finding yourselves here at this wonderful celebration.
You are the reason I want to talk about hope and faith in yourself and how to hold on to these like they are your sweetest best friend ever.
Because I recognize that despite the fun I hope you’ll have tonight, graduation is not a comfortable place to find yourselves. I remember the fear and anxiety I felt at the end of my university days, not knowing what would become of me.
And that was a much more hopeful time. We actually were very busy changing the world in those days.
I was too young to be a Women’s Liberation Movement founder, but I was at the very second Toronto meeting of the WLM – as we called it back then – the summer before I started my post-secondary days. That set the tone for me.
Student activism was my main focus in university, and social history was my impossibly impractical field of study.
It felt utterly random at the time. It was just what I felt compelled to do. Yet it turned out that my activism work and the seemingly useless social history I was studying and the fabulous like-minded friends I connected with and in some cases, fell in love with, turned out to be the pillars of my as yet unimagined 38-year NOW Magazine, nowtoronto media career. Go figure.
I didn’t know then that I would be standing here today as one of the first cohort of creative women (mostly white women) since patriarchy colonized the world, who would be able to shape my own life, live my own sexuality, express my own gifts and bring them out into the world. That is a cool and hopeful thing to reflect upon in this otherwise truly messed-up world.
But hey, I get it. That is not enough. The weight of what is going on right now is a burden you are carrying that is beyond historical precedent. The cascading issues are on every level and everywhere from personal-survival issues like precarious work and digital disruption, all the way up to the totally global and beyond. The earth itself is raging.
But hope is not for suckers. It gives us the energy to keep imagining. We need that to keep going. It is an essential.
Most of you are, like me, children or grandchildren of genocide, or war, slavery or tyranny. Violence or oppression. Our ancestors suffered, yet here we are at this joyous time. They would be filled with happiness to see you here. Their hope brought us together.
So here is my bit of elder wisdom for you based on what I have lived and loved and learned. You are here for a purpose you likely have yet to discover. The earth herself is calling on each and every one of us to become a planetary citizen in his or her or their own beautiful way.
How do you do that? Let me share the words that author and 60s Merry Prankster Ken Kesey (he wrote One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) shared with me. At some Toronto authors’ fest, I asked him to sign one of his books and he wrote “sink your yellow fangs into whatever your passion is and let them drag you to your destiny.” I think that’s good advice.
And if there are some bright, shiny faces 30 or 40 or 50 years from now gathering in this very spot for this same celebration, it will be in part thanks to you and all the mystery of how you and your like-minded friends take up the hopeful challenge of founding a new era for them to find their way.
Let me close with my personal motto: It takes a leap of wild faith to believe you can make a difference. Don’t let that stop you.