A reflection of life hacks with Rick Mercer: Spring 2022 convocation address

U of A Honorary Degree recipient Rick Mercer shared nuggets of wisdom about hotel bar soaps, sandwiches and saving the country at this year's Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of ALES Spring convocation.


On the afternoon of June 15, 2022, the U of A community celebrated the academic achievements of its 2022 Spring graduates from the Faculties of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences, and Arts. Congrats and well done, everyone!

During the ceremony, Canadian icon Rick Mercer received an honorary degree for his indelible contributions to Canadian culture and for supporting and celebrating the stories of Canadians across the country and around the world. Mercer urged the graduating class to heed the advice of Warren Zevon and “enjoy every sandwich”. His full speech is below. 

I know what you’re thinking “My god, what happened to him?”. The vaccine did this! 

Eminent Chancellor, which by the way is an amazing title, like Supreme Chancellor of the galactic senate. Eminent Chancellor, President, members of the Board of Governors and Senate, faculty, family, friends and fellow graduates. I cannot tell you what an honour it is to be standing here with you today. Quite frankly, after the last two years, it’s an honour to be anywhere. Just being out the house wearing pants in public - it’s a big day. But isn’t it great that we get to do this, finally, together, in person. Isn’t it great? But let me assure you as an amateur historian….as odd as the last few years have felt for you as students…all the hoops that you had to jump through…this has not and has not been the weirdest period in human history. Not going to lie…it’s way up there…maybe top three…maybe even top two…who am I kidding, nothing has been weirder than the last couple of years. But you triumphed, you finished your education and it is my great honour as a fellow graduate to be here with you graduates who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much. Obviously you did all the work and I did nothing. You know how when you are growing up people say “nothing is going to be handed to you on a silver platter?”. Me getting a doctorate is about as close as it gets!

Now before we get going, I would like to take a moment and acknowledge the people that are in this room that are bursting with pride to see you graduate today. So many people in this room have known you and wished this for you your entire life. So many people in this room have known you your entire life and because of that, they never believed that this day would ever come. So graduates, let's take a moment and thank the people that helped us get to where we are today, whether they are here in person or in spirit. Family, friends, you can breathe now. Now, it’s going to be all about them.

My fellow graduates, if you are lucky someday in your life, much further down the road, near the end of your career (hopefully not the end of your career), you will find yourself sitting down at a computer and you will be googling the phrase “how to write a university convocation address”. You’ll find several articles and they’ll all say pretty much the same thing. They’ll say “please be brief”. They will remind you that the young people in the audience at the convocation have a lot going on, lot of balls in the air, they have got a lot on their mind. Also, at least one or two of them will be hopelessly hungover. If that’s you, just bear with me. The articles will then go on to tell you that your job as the addressee is very simple: you are to inspire these graduates and then give them some nugget that you have learned in your life that they can use in their life as they go forward.

So here goes: the inspirational part. Recently, I wrote a book. I don’t bring that up because I want you to read the book. I assume most of you already had. From what I gather, you are a highly educated, learned bunch with great tastes so perhaps you have. No, I bring up the fact that I wrote a book because my advice to you today is that you should all write a book. And, like me, make it a memoir. And you should start as soon as possible. When you go home tonight, before you go to sleep, just start writing it down. Just start writing down your earliest memories and then just touch on all the key moments in your life that brought you to this moment of accomplishment. Because if you sit down and you start to reflect on your life in that way, you will realize you are reflecting on your life in a way that perhaps you never have. I know that’s certainly what I experienced when I decided to write a book. And I look back on a life filled with ups and down, successes and failures, all the messy stuff that goes with a life well lived, I hope, and I realized above all else that I was incredibly lucky. And I always knew I was lucky. I was a Canadian who is making a living in show business and that is the definition of lucky. But every one in this room is lucky. The fact that you are here in Canada makes you very lucky. Whether this is your permanent home or this is just the home you studied in, you are lucky. And you are graduating from one of the finest universities in the world. And how lucky are you to be earned with one of the greatest educations in the world and to be living in this country at this point in human history. Because there is no better point to be setting out on this adventure than right now. And there’s always going to be people who say “Oh no, now is not the time. Now is not the time to be entering the workforce. Now is not the best time to be starting a business. Now is not the best time to be starting a family. Now is not the best time to be a man. Now is not the best time to be a woman. Or both. Who’s to say?” When you hear people say these things, ignore them. This is the best time because this is your time. And believe me, as an old guy, I can assure you (and I’m speaking on behalf of all the other old guys and gals up there), any one of us would trade places with any one of you in a heartbeat. I would trade places with any one of you in the blink of an eye…I mean, I would like to keep my money, but you get my point. I’d trade places with you because I’m so excited about what's in store for you. And I’m so excited that many of you have no idea what’s in store for you and that many of you are going to end up in careers that don’t even exist right now. And I know all of you will end up doing things you never imagined that you would possibly do. I know that was true in my life; I know it will be true in your life if—and it’s a big if—you remain open to change and open to challenges—open to a challenge. Very easy.  The easiest way to challenge yourself is to have other people do it for you. And the way you do that is to surround yourself with people who challenge you. Remember this—if you consistently find that you’re the smartest person in the room, find another room. 

And now you face the daunting task of figuring out what it is that lies ahead of you, what the next steps are going to be. Take solace in the fact that you are prepared. My god, you have a lot of information in your heads. As of today, you even have a piece of paper that attests to the fact that you have information in your heads. But also know this—and this is very important—embrace the fact that there is so much that you don’t know. When you were young, when you were starting out, believe me, sometimes what you don’t know is a secret weapon.  When I was 20-21 years of age, I was living in my hometown of St. John’s, Newfoundland, I was living the dream, I was working in the theatre which is where I wanted to be. I was trying to write plays in my part time, I had a comedy troupe, things were going great. I was washing dishes to pay the bills. And I was given the opportunity to write a one-man show, and do it not in St. John’s, but in the nation’s capital, to take it to Ottawa. And when that opportunity came along, I said “yes” in a heartbeat. I said “yes” without even thinking. I said “yes” despite the fact I had never written a one-person show. I had never been in a one-person show. I had never stood alone on a stage for that long. I had no idea what I was doing. And also, we had to open in exactly six weeks. Now, the problem is, six weeks is not enough time to do what I just described. It can’t be done—you ask anyone in the business and they will tell you it can’t be done. Everyone in the know knew it couldn’t be done. The thing was, I wasn’t in the know. I didn’t know any better.  I said, “Yes, I’m in.” And then with the help of the director—who honestly, he didn’t know any better either—we pulled it off—we created a nice little show. And then speaking of luck, along came a massive national unity crisis that shook the nation to its very core. It just so happens that that was what my show was about. That nice little show grew into a very large show that toured across the entire country. And I played it six to seven nights a week for the next year. And every single good thing that happened in my career, including being here tonight, can be traced back to that show. And I thank my lucky stars every single day that I said “yes” to that opportunity because if I knew then what I know now, I would have said “no.” And my life would have been very different.  Thank god, I didn’t have the sense to say “no”. 

And this is why young people starting out have a huge capacity to change the world. Young people, young terrified people, young nervous people, young people who have no idea what’s going to happen next, they have been changing the world forever. When you picture Alexander Graham Bell, like me, you probably picture some wizened old man from your Grade 8 history text, except Alexander Graham Bell was in his early twenties when he patented the telephone. Banting and Best began producing insulin in their early twenties . Microsoft and Apple founded by people in their twenties. Marie Curie had her first groundbreaking thoughts on making atoms divisible in her twenties . And who can dispute the impact that a young woman like Malala has had on the world.  And we need more of that. And that’s where you come in. This is your time; please embrace it.  Your job is simple—to fix the world and the country that you are inheriting—piece of cake.

And now, for those of you who were following along, that was the inspiring part. Now comes the part where I impart to you some piece of wisdom, drawn from my life, that you will rely on for the rest of your natural lives. Here it comes. Fellow graduates, at some point in your life no doubt you will be required to check into a hotel room. When you get into said hotel room, immediately go into the bathroom, pull back the shower, and look at the soap. If it’s wrapped in plastic or paper, you want to open that right away while your hands are dry. You don’t want to find yourself in the shower a couple of hours down the road trying to get that sucker open with wet hands. Also, in that same hotel room, there is a hook on the back of the bathroom door. Do not, under any circumstances, place any of your personal items on that hook. If you do, you will never ever see them again. There is no such thing as “lost and found.”  That is a myth.  If you take nothing away from this weekend other than those two pieces of advice, I just saved you a world of grief.  But I’m going to wrap up by referencing someone far smarter and wiser than me, the American singer-songwriter Warren Zevon, who was also asked to impart some wisdom—not to a graduating class but I guess to the world at large—it was not at a convocation, it was during an appearance on the David Letterman show. At the time of his appearance, Warren Zevon knew that his time on this earth was very short—very, very short. He had an unlucky diagnosis and his time was limited. And he was asked a question that millions of people in his position have been asked before, knowing that he was at the end of his life. What lessons had he learned? And he said, “just one.” And his answer is as good as any I have ever heard. The best advice yet. He said, “Dave, enjoy every sandwich.” I’m going to leave you with that. Enjoy every sandwich; if you can do that, everything else is gravy. In conclusion, to the class of 2022, go forward and have fun and as you go through life, the rules of camping apply: please leave this place in a better shape than when you found it. Here’s to your wonderful future. Along the way, please, as I mentioned earlier, please fix my country, always remember what I said about the hook on the bathroom door, and what Warren Zevon had to say about life. Thank you very much. Congratulations.

Review past convocation ceremonies, including convocation speeches, honorary degree recipients and a list of graduates.

About Rick

Rick Mercer is a Canadian comedian, television personality, political satirist and author. He is best known for his work on the CBC Television comedy shows This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Made In Canada and Rick Mercer Report. He is the author of four books and has received nearly 30 Gemini Awards and Canadian Screen awards for his work on telev ision. 

He is a recipient of the Governor Generals Performing Arts Award for lifetime achievement and in 2014 was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. He is also on the board of directors of Historica Canada, an organization dedicated to promoting Canadian history, identity and citizenship. 

Along with his recently awarded Honorary Degree from the U of A, Rick holds Honorary Doctorates from Memorial University, Laurentian University, University of British Columbia, McMaster University, Bishop's University, Brock University, University of Guelph, Royal Military Academy, University of Western Ontario and York University. 

Bio found on rickmercer.com.