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Loreena McKennitt to receive honorary Doctor of Letters degree on December 1, 2002

Loreena McKennitt to receive honorary Doctor of Letters degree on December 1, 2002

WATERLOO - Wilfrid Laurier University will recognize one of Canada's most prominent entertainers by bestowing an honorary degree on singer/composer Loreena McKennitt during its fall convocation ceremony.

"In addition to her successful music career, her entrepreneurial accomplishments as well as her community leadership initiatives form the basis for her nomination," said president and vice-chancellor Robert G. Rosehart.

McKennitt will receive an honorary Doctor of Letters and address graduates shortly after 1:15 p.m. on Sunday, December 1 at the university's Athletic Complex,

Transcending the folk genre with which she is most readily identified, McKennitt's "eclectic Celtic" music has captivated listeners worldwide. Beginning with a nine-song cassette she sold from the trunk of her car, she has gone on to create six full-length studio albums and a two-disc live recording which have seen her catalogue sell nearly 14 million copies worldwide.

While she is an astounding self-made music phenomenon, McKennitt is also distinguished by her community values. Based in Stratford, Ont., the musician is the driving force behind the revitalization of a local schoolhouse dating from the late 1920s. With an eye to maintaining the educational function of the building, McKennitt has overseen the creation of the Falstaff Family Centre - a community space where people of all ages learn and grow.



Loreena McKennitt shares her Journey with Laurier Grads
December 5, 2002

It's been a winding road that's taken Loreena McKennitt from her roots in small-town Manitoba to international success as a singer and composer. As she accepted an Honorary Doctor of Letters at Laurier's fall convocation Sunday, McKennitt reflected on her life's path and reminded graduates the journey is as important as the destination.

"There is an Irish expression which goes: 'it is a long road which knows no turning.' There is also a wonderful saying of Lao-tzu: 'A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving,'" said McKennitt as she began her convocation address.

The choice of quotations will come as little surprise to those familiar with her art. McKennitt's travels from Ireland to Italy, from China to Turkey, have provided her with imagery for recordings that have sold nearly 14 million copies in over 40 countries. Journeys - both literal and metaphorical - inform McKennitt's life and music.

"I have arrived at this place by taking a journey that on the surface is very different from the one most of you have taken. But I suspect we have more in common than you might think," McKennitt told the graduates.

"The diploma you and I both receive today symbolizes many things. It stands for the learning we have done, in our respective classrooms, but also for what we have learned from friendships, in conversations, in long hours of silent engagement with ideas or problems, in the connections we have learned to make between our instincts, our education and the world around us."

Born and raised in the small prairie community of Morden, Manitoba, classical music lessons and Highland dancing were small but important first steps for McKennitt. While she didn't set out to be a professional musician, it was a direction she was reluctant to leave unexplored.

"I wanted to be a veterinarian, but there were various musical opportunities arising and I knew I would always wonder how far I could have gone with my music. So I thought, 'Well, I'll go with it and if it plateaus, I'll reassess,'" said McKennitt in an interview.

Her career began in Stratford, Ontario, with work as an actor, singer and composer with the city's acclaimed Shakespeare festival. McKennitt established her own label, Quinlan Road, and made her first recording in 1985 with money borrowed from her parents. Ironically, those funds had been earmarked for her university education.

The irony was not lost on McKennitt the day she received her Honorary Doctorate.

"I feel privileged and quite excited. It's a very new world really the more academic world. I come from a real work on my feet kind of life education," McKennitt said with a chuckle.

"I do think if I try to be objective about my own life's path people do learn in different ways and they do acquire information, knowledge and hopefully wisdom in different ways."

McKennitt's love of music and poetry from far away places has led her around the globe. A trip to Morocco inspired her recording The Mask and Mirror, while The Book of Secrets found its beginnings in Italy and was heavily influenced by a ride on the Trans-Siberian Express.

But, the road has not always been smooth for McKennitt. In 1998 fate took the musician by "the scruff of the neck" when her partner, his brother and a work colleague perished in a boating incident on Georgian Bay.

It was from that tragedy that McKennitt helped create the Cook-Rees Memorial Fund for Water Search and Safety. The organization has generated more than $3 million for research and education promoting water safety.

McKennitt is also the impetus behind the revitalization of a Stratford schoolhouse dating from the 1920s. The musician purchased the building fearing its demolition and has overseen the creation of the Falstaff Family Centre - a community space aimed at enriching family life.

"We'd like to be a catalyst in the community to stimulate discussion," she said of the centre. "I personally feel I want to live in a community where there's a lot of debate and dialogue that's one of a constellation of things we aspire to undertake there."

Artistically, McKennitt is now at what she calls the "foothills of the next cycle." She appears to enjoy the freedom of being self-produced and says it will probably be at least a few years before she releases another recording.

"I spent some time in Turkey and Greece in the spring and I hope to spend some more time in the East and Middle East," she said. "When I was in Turkey in the spring I went to an archaeological site just outside of Ankara where they had recently found Celtic remains. Who would think there would be Celts in Anatolia? But there they were."

The joy McKennitt finds in cultural exploration is obvious. And it is her love of learning, creativity, humanity and entrepreneurship that make McKennitt such a fitting addition to the Laurier community