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Valedictory Address 2012

WO Paul Burrill - 2012 Robert Land Academy Valedictorian
WO Paul Burrill

Every Governor’s Parade Colonel Bowman tells a joke about a boy who buys a turtle from a pet-shop owner.   We always see the looks of horror on ASM ’s face before the joke is told.   The boy returns the turtle because it has blistered feet.   We find, usually without much hilarity, that the boy uses the turtle like a wind-up car.   “Vroom Vroom” the Colonel describes how the young boy injures his pet.   What makes the joke funny is the belief that the ASM was the boy in the pet store.  

Good afternoon caring families, cherished friends, honored guests, faculty members, Lt. Colonel Bowman, brothers.   Standing on grad parade is something we all look forward to every year.   We wait for this moment, starting in September, and count the days, and sometimes calculate the hours, until it is time to march on.   We share the same excitement that summer vacation is just a few hours away, like all students in schools across Canada.   Robert Land students, however, share something unique.   At Robert Land it is the steps we have taken to get here, and the problems we have had to overcome.   We have accomplished and achieved so much both individually and as a unit.

Every cadet here comes from different pasts and different families.   Despite these differences, we are very much the same in that we all drastically needed change.   We were all in need of the unmatched structure and discipline that Robert Land provides.   It all started the same way for us - traveling down the dirt road with the steeple of the mess hall standing tall and proud.   That’s when we realized that Robert Land Academy really does exist, and our parents weren’t bluffing this time! Our lives would never be the same.

The recruit course was like nothing we will ever experience again.   Upon walking through the doors, all previous feelings quickly turned to fear and confusion.   Within ten minutes everything was gone and we stood there, staring at the wall with no hair, and a blue jump suit.   As we wrote our last names, over and over again, on every piece of kit that was given to us, we couldn’t help but wonder, "what did we do to get here"?   I realized that the only thing I had was my last name.   The most precious thing to me that could never be taken from me was the family that I had been pushing away for so long.   If I wasn’t going to succeed here for myself, I had to do it for them, and finally make my family proud.

And so, there we were - a bunch of lost boys who thought that they had it all figured out, getting the single largest kick in the rear of our lives that would turn us into young men.   We bonded with tough physical tests, of which the Fall Exercise was the first and most significant.   The challenges for some were harder than anything we’d done before.   In our sections we marched along the winding Bruce Trail in three days, pushing the members who fell behind, encouraging each other, and working as a team.   By the time we stood at Queenston Heights, we had become brothers.   It was like magic.

The teachers at this school are saints.   At public school, some teachers seem to lack care, handing grades out like candy is handed out at Halloween.   Showing up at the door is good enough to be tossed a passing grade, setting their students up for failure in the future.   The teachers here give real grades, and to the best of their abilities they ensure we understand the material to the fullest extent.   When they could be spending time with family and friends, they stay late after school helping us with material that we missed, or assignments that we label impossible.   I would like to thank all of you on behalf of the student body; you have shown all of us that you care a great deal.   I am especially thankful to, and will always remember: Lt. Banta, who shares my passion for climbing, and has helped me grow in a sport that I hope to enjoy for years to come.   Dr. Brown, who has prepared the graduates for the trials and tribulations of life as a university student.   And Lt. Simmons, who, with his very unique and somewhat outrageous personality takes the title for the most engaging English teacher I have ever had, he even made Shakespeare somewhat palatable.

The barracks staff is equally as valuable.   They taught us life lessons in organization, time management, and mediation.   DSM Robinson can always be heard whistling a tune from across the barracks.   He has played a significant roll in helping us graduates to prepare for the real world, and taught us the values of the Academy, the most important of which being honesty.

In between the barracks, and the class room, there is an army of staff that keeps things running smoothly.   The kitchen staff kept the Academy going with their healthy meals; Ms. Lake helped us get home, just in the nick of time; Ms. Spiller coordinated the graduates’ post secondary education plans; Ms. Bowman kept parents informed; Major Doig lead us at all the special events that were off campus this year, and tried his best not to let us embarrass ourselves; ASM Zahra, maintained order at the academy with his usual “Iron Fist” style (although I now know the ASM is a really big softy); and Dr. Harley has again reminded the graduates of the horrors that lie ahead in the world of post secondary education.   We are very grateful for your work.   To Lt. Colonel Bowman, on behalf of every student here today, and every student from the past, thank you for creating Robert Land Academy.   It is you who has given us a second chance, to become all that we can be, and words cannot describe how grateful we are for the opportunities you have given us.

Graduates, I will never forget the journey we have shared.   We have experienced something truly unique together, and I wish all of you the best of luck for the future.   What ever you choose to do in the end, ensure that you are passionate about your work, for without passion for what you do, you will wake up every day dreading what lies ahead.   Don’t allow your life to become an example of the misery that is displayed in Waiting for Godot.   If you spend everyday waiting for the end, you will have nothing to show, and nothing will come of nothing.   Carpe diem - “seize the day”, take each day that is given to you, and make the most of it, because you never know how many you have left.  

Of the graduating class, certain students have helped me get the most out of everyday I have spent here.   Wilson, you have been here with me since day one, and brought humor into each and every day since.   McCarville, since you arrived we have built each other up through good, healthy competition, we have helped one another get to where we are today, and I consider you a brother.   Angra, we came from completely different social groups, but from the same school, in the same city, and now look where we are.   Who knew we would become friends, and both achieve so much! I will always remember experiencing skydiving with you.   Foster, the first time we met was at a summer camp in the Rocky Mountains for three weeks.   We said good bye to each other, truly believing our paths would never cross again…   I guess we were wrong.   Hartley, in the six months you have been here, you have shown me the true meaning of setting goals and achieving them.   I have enjoyed sharing stories of wilderness adventure with you, and a passion for both climbing, and skiing.   Slow wide turns brother!

A staff member that has been a significant influence in my progress over the three years that I’ve been here is Captain Aoki.   Sir, you have inspired me and given me a whole new set of values.   I have enjoyed sharing ideas with you and working for you.   And although your passion is in art, I promise that I will take your advice, and never go into it myself.   I salute you Sir, thank you for everything.

To my extended family, Auntie Jo-Anne and Mary-Anne, and Uncle Mike.   Thank you for making things happen when I needed to be somewhere.   If it wasn’t for your efforts, I would not have a summer job.   Laurie, Nate, Mike, and Riley; your family has welcomed me to your home every month for the last two and a half years.   Thank you for your hospitality.   I wouldn’t have lasted all this time without you, and I consider you part of my family.  Nana and Uncle Ray, I am lucky to have such loving grandparents, you have help me realize how special that is during my time here.   Mark, you are a great brother, and a fantastic role model.   All I can say is, I should have listened to the advice you gave me five years ago.   I will never doubt you again.   Mum, the time, effort, support, care and unconditional love you give me is unbelievable.   I am so lucky to have a mother like you.   I love you and there are no other words that I can use to describe how grateful I am.   Dad, you have sacrificed so much for me and my education.   I hope you are proud of what we have both accomplished.   I realize that you and I have our differences, but I want you to know, that you have always been an outstanding father for me and Mark.   Because of your extremely hard work, we are very privileged, and I hope you know that we are both very grateful, and love you as well.   Thank you Dad, for my second chance.  

I would like to wish everyone here today good health and good times for the future.   Cadets of Robert Land, continue to work hard and display the values that have been taught to us.   They will serve you well.   Enjoy your summer.   Keep your chins up and be proud of what you have accomplished here.   Graduates… We did it!