Left to right: University of Calgary chancellor Deborah Yedlin, John Geiger, and university president Ed McCauley. (Photo: RCGS)
Geiger, who has a degree in history from the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, is also a senior fellow at Toronto’s Massey College, a National Champion of the Great Trail and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.
During his acceptance speech, he spoke on exploration’s deep ties to the advancement of scientific research, to confirming traditional knowledge and furthering cultural understanding — reasons for the constant pressure on the RCGS to fund more and more expeditions. Most of all he celebrated the essential human drive that underpins every expedition, a hard-wired impetus that often overrides our survival instinct and puts us at risk.
It is not foolish to embrace such potential harm, he explained. Voluntary risk has never been more pervasive than it is now, and many expeditions have led to great societal benefits, such as the products of space exploration. On a personal level, exploration is a test of one’s abilities and limits, and has brought many face-to-face with a powerful sense both of themselves and of something much greater: “For those who have had the experience,” said Geiger of extreme examples of this phenomenon, “it is deeply personal, sometimes spiritual, and therefore precious.”
To the University of Calgary’s 2019 graduating class, then, he said, “All of you have been equipped with a wonderful education. But there is something else you need, something that can’t really be taught: You need to be open to risk.”