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Honorary Address - Otto Klassen

Autumn Convocation 2007


Honorary Doctorate of Letters Address
Otto Klassen
October 21, 2007
Eighty-fifth University of Winnipeg Convocation

Your Honour, Madam Minister, Mr. Chancellor, Mr. President, graduates, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I was very surprised when on September 28, Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, the president of the University of Winnipeg, informed me that I was selected to receive the Honorary Doctor of Letters degree for my outstanding contribution to the fields of documenting history and creating cultural awareness.

I never would have imagined such honorary acknowledgement. Thank-you

I want to thank  those who worked with me in producing the films. Special thanks go out to my late wife Kaethe, my children, and grandchildren, who supported me in my work and developed much appreciation of history as documented in film.

Dear students of the University of Winnipeg! Today, after years of diligent study, you will receive an important document, your degree. It will open doors and new opportunities as you face the future, which sometimes is unpredictable, yet always challenging. There are many pressing issues that need our attention. I encourage you to make a difference, each one of you - a difference for the better. Whatever you have learned, put it into practice. Make your dreams become reality. May your youthful energy be focused on that what is true and right and excellent and honorable as you deal with local and global issues.

Of course, with a degree you will have a wider range of choices and income opportunities; yet I am reminded of the words of King Solomon when confronted with the question what he would wish most of all. It was not wealth or a long life or selfish desires, but a wise heart and he received that. Knowledge of course is important, but wisdom gives it direction.

My mother did not have a university degree, but she made wise choices which eventually led our whole family to move to Canada. She maintained, even under communist rule in Russia and Eastern Europe  that Canada was the future for her family. Before I came to the land of my dreams, I moved, in 1947, to the jungles of Paraguay. With hardly a pair of shoes to call my own,  I still  had a dream. I learned the trade of masonry, I  had a dream that went beyond the trade. I wanted to create awareness of the history of people - their hardships under ruthless dictatorships and inhospitable environmental conditions. I wanted to record their stamina and courage under adverse conditions. I wanted to document people depending on each other and helping each other as the need arose. I experienced so much of that and I wanted to record that.

Then in 1955 we immigrated to Canada, the land of our dreams.- It never has disappointed us. I had $500.00 dollars in my pocket when I arrived. I continued to work in my trade and finally I began to realize my dream. I bought a movie camera and editing equipment and then followed the story of my people. I made 52 films, 37 of which were documentary films that have been used by schools, universities and churches to create awareness of the history of a people.

All of us have different aptitudes and different expectations. Lets' use our gifts and together in the land of freedom and opportunity make our dreams come true. Like in tapestry, let all the different threads make one piece of art. We can do that only if we work together and learn from each other.

Continue to strive for peace and justice and carry on the legacy of a great university.