For the second time in less than a year, officials from Western University are apologizing for comments made during an honouree’s convocation speech.
On Monday, Stephan Moccio, a St. Catharines native and Western alumnus, gave a speech during the school’s convocation ceremony. The Grammy- and Academy Award-nominated musician has worked with the likes of Miley Cyrus, Celine Dion and The Weeknd.
After receiving an honorary doctorate in music, Moccio started his speech by saying that one of his earliest memories of London was arriving in town and spotting a sign that read “Thank you, fathers, for dropping off your virgin daughters.”
He followed up that remark by reciting a jingle from the mid-1980s about Western’s Delaware Hall, which used to be an all-female residence.
The jingle went: “Ou ah, Deli is the res. Ou ah, Deli is the res. You move to the left. You move to the right. Peel your banana and oomph, take a bite.”
Moccio’s address was interrupted twice. An audience member shouted something, and there was also a thumping noise that disrupted the address. Both seemed to catch Moccio off guard.
“What did I say, sir?” Moccio said into the microphone, followed by a long pause. “OK, my apologies.”
Following Moccio’s address, music professor James McKay stepped up to the podium to thank him.
“Wasn’t that a speech from Stephan? That was wonderful. I took over the convocation brass in 1999 and I have heard every single convocation speech since then,” McKay said. “That was one of the best.”
However, that was not how a statement from the university later characterized Moccio’s comments.
Western University president Amit Chakma issued a statement later in the day denouncing the speech.
“At our convocation ceremony this morning, honorary degree recipient Stephan Moccio made comments that were unacceptable and not in keeping with what Western values in a respectful learning and working environment,” Chakma was quoted as saying.
“Western must remain steadfast in its commitment to creating a safe and respectful environment for all.”
The statement continued: “To the entire Western community, I sincerely apologize to those who attended the ceremony and any others who were offended by these remarks and the subsequent distraction it caused.”
Moccio himself issued a statement apologizing for his comments.
“I realize the words chosen were not only wrong but undermine decades of work on this very campus to bring justice to important women’s issues,” Moccio wrote. “I will strive to better represent the values of my beloved alma mater in the future.”
In a statement, Western spokesperson Keith Marnoch said while Western’s Honorary Degree recipients had always been invited to reflect on their own lives during convocation and offer encouraging words to attending grads, Monday’s incident gave them cause for reflection.
“As we plan future convocations we will be asking honorary degree recipients to give careful consideration to Western’s values when writing their remarks,” Marnoch said via email. “We will encourage speeches that respect the diversity of all members of our campus community, and support our efforts to create a campus free of sexism and gender-based discrimination.”
Monday’s incident marks the second time in less than a year that controversy has erupted over an honouree’s convocation speech.
During one of the university’s events in its fall 2018 programming, businessperson and philanthropist Aubrey Dan made a comment about female students for which Western also apologized.
While addressing the gathered graduates as well as their families and faculty members, Dan reminisced about how he decided to transfer to Western in the early 1980s, citing the influence of an article in Playboy magazine.
“According to Playboy magazine, at that time, the women (at Western) are among the best in North America, and obviously they still are,” he said in part.
Dan later apologized for his remarks.
“My comment was in reference to a compliment and nothing else,” he said in his apology. “I am an egalitarian.
“My remarks were made to provide a context of what went through my 19-year-old mind when deciding back in 1983 to go to Western.”
Global News Radio 980 CFPL reached out to Western University to speak further about Monday’s incident, but representatives said the statement posted to the school’s website is what the university had to offer for comment.
A subsequent request for comment on how the school plans to prevent incidents of this kind from happening again and whether officials are considering a policy to vet honourees’ speeches before they address convocation crowds has so far gone unanswered.
—With files from Jess Brady and Andrew Graham