For Geddy Lee, the lead vocalist, bassist and keyboardist of the Canadian progressive rock band Rush, getting an honorary degree is a big deal. The high school drop out turned rock star and his bandmates Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart were awarded an honorary bachelor of music from Nipissing University Thursday.
"[It is] very cool, I like it a lot," says Lee. "I can razz my son about it, who is a real doctor. He did it the hard way."
Unfortunately, Lee and Lifeson were not at the ceremony to receive their degrees. The two flew up from Toronto Thursday morning but could not land at North Bay's Jack Garland Airport due to inclement weather.
"I'm very disappointed we weren't able to come," says Lee. "I was really looking forward to it. We asked 'why can't you drop us off at Sudbury?', but the pilot said we couldn't. By the time we got back it was too late for us to drive up."
Lee also said was most disappointed about not being able to mingle with the students.
Mike DeGagné, president of Nipissing University, says the honorary degree committee chooses Canadians who have made an impact.
"We try to choose people who have made a positive impact locally, regionally, nationally, or even internationally," he says. "The committee works all year to nominate and award these degrees."
Rush ranks third in sales after The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and has received 7 Grammy nominations and several Juno awards, as well as having been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and were made Officers of the Order of Canada. The band has also been involved in many philanthropic endeavours.
Rush has played several times in North Bay, mostly in the late 1970s. Geddy Lee states he has no particular memories of the shows.
Despite the success, Lee says he was never a fan of learning music in school.
"I had no patience for music theory or formal pieces," he said. "It didn't have the same feel as rock and roll. I was much more interested in history or english."
Surprisingly, he also never took philosophy formally.
"We mostly learned it through reading in our dead time," he said, noting that Rush spent a lot of time touring in their early years. "We read non-stop, and educated ourselves through reading, getting high, and having discussions."
But like many people, he says he does believe that you need both formal education and life experience.
"You need a bit of both, I've always encouraged [my children] to stay in school," he says. "It's the best of both worlds, if you're going to go out there you might as well arm yourself with the best tools you can."
Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson's convocation address videos are available on Nipissing University's website.
Other honorary degree recipients from Nipissing University were author Giles Blunt, neurologist and drug designer Dr. Donald Weaver, Dr. Mary Ferguson-Paré, Muriel Sawyer, The Honourable Francis Lankin and Ron Jamieson.