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Canadian icon Tomson Highway receives honorary doctorate from Algonquin College

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“I was so proud to change the world for him,” Highway said fondly, describing the memory. “He said, you go out there and give them hell. I changed the world in my own way. I had an exceptional education. I worked very hard and everything I did was for my dad.”

He remembered his good education with the Jesuits, Latin lessons, a warm bed with white cotton sheets and hot meals. He also remembered summers at home near the border between Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nunavut, which he described as “extraordinary.”

“We were pushed out of the nest so young that we had to learn to fly,” Highway said. “By the time you're my age (72), you've developed huge wings and turn disasters into victories and special experiences.”

Over the years, Highway has been on the world stage and a passionate participant and observer. “I've been to 65 countries,” he said proudly. “I speak seven languages. I have an exceptional education. I consider education a gift.”

When asked what advice he would give to graduates, he replied, “Whatever you do, do it with joy. God put us on earth to laugh. If you haven't laughed 100 times in a day, you haven't lived that day.”

He believed that “developing understanding for other people makes an ideal leader” and he encouraged people to “listen respectfully.”

Highway's motivation in life couldn't be simpler. Love, he said, is what motivates him. “I love everyone. I jump out of bed, I enjoy my food, I love my partner, my grandchildren, my family.”

Highway has already received double-digit accolades, honors and awards, and he is most proud of his ability to laugh. “I find everything funny. My favorite sound is human laughter. A human is at his most beautiful when he laughs,” he says. “I need to hear laughter every day. Every bone in my body is designed to make jokes. I do this so I can hear you laugh. There is nothing uglier than a scowl.”

At a time when education places a large emphasis on STEM subjects, Highway emphasizes the importance of the arts. “I see a doctor taking care of the human body. Medicine takes care of physical health and the arts deal with the human mind. You have to have a healthy mind. The arts are a different kind of science and they have healing powers like laughter, love and emotions. I'm in the business of creating beauty. Artistic disciplines are just as important.”