Good morning L Col. Bowman, faculty members, honoured guests, parents, friends and fellow students. Welcome to the 2010 Robert Land Academy Graduation Parade.
This day, that we have all been anticipating has finally arrived. Graduation is ultimately here and the next step in life is only a few hours away. This final parade represents our final act of brotherhood. A brotherhood that forms in September and culminates today in June. As we perform this last parade as one unit, the brotherhood that is formed at Robert Land Academy will be made evident: we will walk tall, march in step, stand still, and march off proud … We have practiced for this moment all year. After the work is done and the parade is over, it will be time for this brotherhood not to be broken, but rather expanded with our last farewells. As we look the people in the eye who we have eaten with, roomed with, worked with, lived with, and yes even gotten in a little bit of trouble with, it will be in the back of our minds that this will be the last time everyone here today will be together in one place. This is a day that should be remembered
When a boy attends Robert Land he is typically an uninspired, selfish, self-centred teenaged boy who ironically believes he has done nothing wrong. The purpose of the Academy is to take this boy and show him a different path, a path towards a better brighter future. The first step in the journey is the recruit course. It starts with saying goodbye to parents, and saying hello to the warm welcome of ASM Zahra, Capt. Milliken, and Capt. Doig in the parking lot of Ivey Hall. It’s basically downhill from here… depending on your perspective. Minutes is all it takes for us to have a shaved head; wearing coveralls with a duct-taped name tag holding a plastic bag tied in a knot wondering where it was that we went wrong. The next stop is stores. At first you hear stores and you think of a nice trip to an outlet mall with Nike, Guess, Foot Locker, and Roots, but it is actually a lonely window in a grey basement with Lt. Lee tossing you a mesh bag filled with surprises. After being escorted to the barracks with cheers of encouragement (to be nice about it), you are told to put your last name on every single thing you own. As you are writing your last name on absolutely everything from your polish to your underwear, a very hollow realization hits you: you have nothing. Nothing but your last name! I was no longer Scott Vatcher, just Vatcher, Recruit Vatcher or simply recruit. From this point on the day goes by in a blur and the next thing you know the longest day of your life is just about over. When the lights finally go out, you climb under your dust blankets (which is not as comfy as it sounds) and lie there alone until you fall asleep. Although we are alone in our thoughts, we are all in it together.
The struggle of Robert Land offers many positive aspects. One that many of us take for granted is the friendships that we build. As I look at the graduating class I can think of thousands of memories that I have shared with all of you. Would it not be odd for me to say that after only two and a half years I am closer to you gentlemen, than most of my best friends whom I have known for most of my life? No it is not. Together we eat, sleep, live, endure and even enjoy. It is we who get each other through the year, through the good times like the lasting laughter during company movies, and the hard times like PT in the mud after a bad inspection. We turn to each other and depend on one another in our times of need. I will miss not having your unconditional support and someone to share my successes and endure my failures. My greatest pleasures were helping to encourage those to make the right decisions, and watching you succeed when you did, as well as lending a helping hand in any way I could when you failed. It was picking you up and motivating you when that 90 km march was too long, and it gave me much comfort in knowing that you would do the same for me.
The three barracks that stand opposite the parade square represent the different stages of the brotherhood. The youngest brother is A-Company, looking up to the older brothers imitating what they see. B-Company is the middle aged brother, always trying to be noticed no matter the cost. Lastly, the oldest brother, C-Company is the leader and role model of the brotherhood. Although we are at different stages in the brotherhood and in life, the work load in the barracks is the same: Polishing boots, folding laundry, ironing uniforms, cleaning washrooms, mopping floors, dusting lockers, and making beds. In performing these tasks, we learn how to work with each other, overcome differences, teach and be taught, and how to set goals. These are skills that most of us did not see as useful before attending Robert Land. The self-centred, uninspired boy does not excel in this environment. We command a sense of unity for ourselves. We learn that it is the hard times in life that make us stronger on a personal basis, and just as importantly as one unit; group discipline, white glove inspections, block marches, and treacherous physical training sessions with Lt. Aoki are always something to look forward to. These are the hard times we work through building the eternal bond we share.
Once the students here at Robert Land have spent their first few weeks learning how to perform the necessary tasks they have to do in the barracks, their first real test arrives: The Fall Exercise, or Fall Ex. On this three-day excursion along the Niagaraescarpment, we race in our sections towards that seemingly non-existent finish line. We deal with the blistered feet, cramping legs, sore backs and scorching sun. With the pain and exhaustion, it starts to get lonely in your head. The brotherhood, however, is the one motivator that compels you to never give up or give in. We learn that if we just keep pushing and never quit, everything else in life will be just a little bit easier. The sense of accomplishment we get when the three gruelling days are over is something we haven’t felt before. This was also a time to prove yourself worthy of your first promotion, to get rid of that embarrassing tan beret and replace it with a blue one, to be called a cadet, and get acceptance from your peers. If you were promoted on this day the pain from the previous three vanished, and you had something to show for your hard work.
After the Fall Ex, our focus turns to the classroom. We are in the classroom so much it becomes home. And we do our best to make it feel like home. Who could forget Driscoll’s fetish for hiding his latest and greatest ridiculous art creations all over Lt. Simmons’s classroom, or the hilarious improvisations brought to you by Lofranco and Hannaford, or Nemanic’s snoring into a history textbook. We will miss your classes’ sir; they always lightened the day. Dr. Brown, we will never forget the bird lectures or the long life lessons you always try to teach us. Dr. Inglis, I will never miss your brutal tests, but what I will miss is your keen sense of humour. The three of you have more than prepared the graduating class for their university studies.
Miss Lake we need to say thank you for the letters sent, our leaves organized, and for basically being the mother of the Academy. Miss Spiller…the amount of work you did on behalf of the graduates is greatly appreciated by all of us, collage and university would still be a dream if you were not there to guide us along the right path. Lastly, all of the kitchen staff who slave away to make sure no one is working on an empty stomach, we thank all of you.
In the past three years I have had the opportunity to spend time with all three companies, there are names and moments I will never forget. Koetsier always had a new joke for me when I was doing my rounds at night; Burrill has learned how to shake hands like a man after a full year of practice; Smith J has helped me see the other side of the fence through our conversations; and lastly, moments with Yacub, Strachan, Adebisi, Akinkuotu, McLaren, Rasmussen, Chan, and Shrestha will never be forgotten. Life in the barracks would not have been possible without the hard work of the company staff such as Capt. Milliken and DSM. Robinson (the dynamic duo), Capt. Doig, CSM. Beardwood, and CSM Newman (The three musketeers), and W.O. Neill (is that with one “L” or two sir?). Thank you for all that you have done for me and the students here at the Academy.
When I arrived at Robert Land I left behind a broken family who had just made the difficult decision of leaving their son in a school that they knew little about. They did this as a last resort to save me from myself. Four years ago my teachers and principal told my parents that I would never graduate from high school! For them, it was easier for me to become someone else’s problem! To them, I was a lost cause! I believed them and showed no aspirations to neither challenge myself nor further my education. Four years ago, I would have never believed that I would later become the Head Boy and Valedictorian, with good marks and a high school diploma. I learned that no matter how bad a situation might be, it is up to us to put the time and effort in to change ourselves. Robert Land gives us the tools to do so; however, it is up to us to change. At this graduation we have proven our worth.
We could not have done this without our families at home. I will always remember sitting with my mom as she desperately tried to teach me math for hours after school with the hope that I might be able to pass. My little sister Lauren and I never used to talk and now when I call home I look forward to hearing her story of the day. My girlfriend Shannon has been there for me these past two years through the good and the bad. And to my Dad, I know we have had our moments, and some of the situations have not been easy. I just want to let you know that do I love you and I hope I made you proud today. Thank all of you for the sacrifices you have made for me, they will never be forgotten.
I would also like to thank Lt. Col. Bowman and ASM Zahra for giving me the second chance I needed to turn my life around.
Upon leaving the Academy it is important to remember all of the moments spent here, good and bad. It has been a long hard road for all of us, but we are finally here, and what we have learned, and accomplished should not be forgotten. To the students returning next year, “To you from falling hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high”. It seems like a long path, but one worth walking. To my fellow graduates, this is just one step on the path.
Let’s take it together.