Brockville Pipes and Drums

Remarks to Graduates-May 22, 2022

Thank you, for your kind introduction.

It is an honour for me to be here today and to accept this North Country Citation on behalf of the Brockville Pipes & Drums.

This Pipe Band has been playing here at St Lawrence University for Commencements, Alumni Reunions and Matriculations since the early 1990’s, long before I joined the Band; even before I learned to play the bagpipe. In my time with the Band, it has played in many civic parades throughout Northern New York: Fulton (near Syracuse), Cape Vincent, Watertown, Clayton, Alexandria Bay, Fort Drum, Theresa, Philadelphia (NY), Heuvelton, Canton, Potsdam, Norwood, Malone and Saranac Lake, and I am sure I have missed some. We do appreciate very much the recognition which we are receiving today.

I am the Pipe Major of the Band – the big Kahuna! That does not mean that I am the best bagpiper in the Band; far from it. It means I am the person willing to do the necessary managerial work to keep the organization going. It also means I get to tell the Band what tunes to play, when to start and when to stop.

Today is your Commencement. It must be a very proud moment for each of you. All of that hard work you have put in has paid off. Commencement is both a beginning and an end. It is the end of your studies here at St Lawrence University to earn whatever degree you aspired to. But it is also the beginning of whatever you have chosen to do next: perhaps begin studies for a post-graduate degree, perhaps begin a career, perhaps take some time off before going on to other things. Your future begins now.

You have had many Commencements in the past: starting Kindergarten, starting secondary school, starting university…. You will have many more Commencements to look forward to as your life unfolds.

One thing I wanted to do as a teenager was… learn to play the bagpipe. I was born in Scotland, emigrating to Canada with my family at age 10. I learned to play the piano; I enjoyed music. For a variety of reasons, I did not learn to play the bagpipe then. It was about 35 years later that a working colleague of mine – about the same age as me – played bagpipes at a retirement celebration. I said to him: “I didn’t know you could play.” His response: “Oh, I just learned in the last few years.”

Well, that was a Commencement for me! I contacted the local pipe band in Brockville and told them I wanted to learn to play the bagpipe. I started lessons with the Band a few months later. I participated in my first parade in April of 1996 at the age of 52. I played my first SLU Commencement parade in May of 1997. I have played bagpipes with bands in Scotland and in the Netherlands and for royalty in both countries. The Brockville Pipes & Drums played recently for the present and two former Prime Ministers of Canada; that’s like playing for three US Presidents! 

The bagpipe is an instrument which is very easy to learn to play… very poorly. It takes a lot of work and practice to learn to play well. Learning at the age I did,… that’s too old to become a really good bagpiper – but I did achieve my goal of learning to play with an acceptable level of competence.

You have all worked hard to achieve your goals at SLU and now you’re all on your way to seek new vistas, to dream new dreams, to embark on who you are and will be, and to embrace life with passion. I wish you all the luck in the world. May you all have a successful future!