It was such a bolt out of the blue that my first reaction was to make sure it was for real. The request came to my producer Michelle, and I wondered if it was a prank. After all, why would a Catholic university in the United States want to honour me with a Doctorate of Humane Letters? I doubted they would know about me, let alone choose a Jewish woman from Toronto.

It turns out Niagara University in Niagara Falls, N.Y., has a strong bi-national presence. And there is a long list of illustrious Canadians who received this honour before me, including jazz great Oscar Peterson, astronaut and Canada’s current governor-general Julie Payette, news anchor Lloyd Robertson, even the reno guy Mike Holmes.

So, yes, I was flattered and that just raised my suspicions more because that is something of which I have always been wary. I even had a Groucho Marx moment, wondering whether I wanted to be part of a club that would have me as a member, before saying yes.

I didn’t think much more about it until it was time to write the speech, which turned out to be a great opportunity to take stock. What could I say to inspire new graduates starting out? I’m usually focused on people at the other end of the generational divide. When young people come to me for career advice, I caution them to proceed only if they are passionate about this industry, only if they are prepared for constant change and uncertainty. We are now called – somewhat presumptuously – “legacy media.” We are not dead yet! But we are being “disrupted,” to use the current terminology. That means I am not sure what to do to keep my own job or those of my employees for the long term, let alone give advice.

So I told some old war stories, like how I came to be the first female reporter in the Tel Aviv bureau of the Associated Press. My boss actually told me he got the guys together and asked if it would be okay to hire a woman. They said yes with a caveat: they decided to give me cab fare to get home from the night shift! It was the perfect first job with a wonderful bunch of guys. But every time I made a mistake, someone would invariably say, “I knew we shouldn’t have hired a woman!” To which I would say, “Don’t vilify my entire sex because I screwed up!” I stood up for myself instead of feeling like a victim but I also took responsibility for my mistakes. One of the most common themes I have seen lately in everything from commencement speeches to self-help books is “embrace your failures.” But I believe acknowledging errors as soon as possible will help ensure a mistake does not turn into a failure.

Niagara University was probably more interested in my journey with cancer and my advocacy. It is an institution based on the ideas of St. Vincent de Paul, and they take service very seriously. I don’t like to take credit for being one of a very few long-term survivors of pancreatic cancer – my doctors deserve that. The citation for my degree commends me for “leveraging God’s grace to inform and inspire others.” That I’ll take – with thanks!

As a survivor with a media platform, I was in a position to raise awareness, help raise money and, most of all, raise hope. I connected with the tiny organization dedicated to this disease in Canada. It has since grown into a modern professional charity that is central to advancing the cause. Nothing I have ever been involved with has given me a greater sense of accomplishment. I told the grads their volunteer jobs could be the most meaningful work they do.

The ceremony was magical, all the more because it was so unexpected. After dinner, an undergraduate named Maham helped me get “robed,” arranging the cap just so, with the tassel on the left. I was moving in my excitement and it kept hitting me in the eye. As I watched the graduates accept their degrees amid cheers from their families, I wondered why I had skipped my own graduation. This was a magnificent do-over. I didn’t realize until later that it coincided with another milestone: the 10th anniversary of my diagnosis – a perfect time to reflect on the past and start thinking about what comes next.

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