The other day, Iain Bruce gave the convocation address at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario – his alma mater. Westporters know him as a dedicated Family Y board member, and an avid bicyclist who has raised over $150,000 for breast cancer, AIDS vaccine research and multiple sclerosis. Professionally, he is a senior managing director in the risk group of Ambac Assurance in New York.
Iain Bruce, in his convocation garb.
Iain started out like many graduation speakers: “33 years ago, I sat where you sit today: happy, proud, grateful, excited, anxious…and jobless.”
But after noting a few differences between his class and the current graduates (there are more women now, and everyone seems smarter), a few similarities (the wonderful experiences they all had in college), and a few bits of advice about taking responsibility for your life, being flexible, seeking balance and doing the right thing, Iain came to the heart of his speech. He said:
You are going to be tested in life. Some of those tests will be very hard indeed: much tougher than anything most of you have experienced so far. You may lose your job or become seriously ill. Death may take a friend, a lover, a spouse, a child. The thing to know is that while you can’t choose what happens to you, only you can choose how you respond.
In 2010 my employer was taken over by its regulator and put into rehabiliation, forbidden to write new business, and its existing business put into runoff. In the preceding 2 years we had let nearly half our staff go. Later that year, our parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
In September of that year, like you, I came to Kingston, and like your parents, my wife and I helped our son unpack his gear and move into residence. Ten days later, on a gloriously sunny morning, I knelt in the wet grass behind Victoria Hall identifying his body for the police.
Some of you knew Cameron. Some of you, I know, were tested by his death. One of you, I know, was his floormate and his friend.
Cameron and Iain Bruce.
In the wake of that annus horribilis, it would have been easy to curl up and hide, to retreat into the enervating solitude of lassitude. Nobody would have criticized it. Everybody would have understood.
But it would have been wrong. It would have been a failure: a failure of responsibility to family and colleagues; a failure of duty to myself and to Cameron’s memory; a failure to live.
Strength, and wisdom in a way, came in a form you will recognize. 2 bastardized Gaelic words: “Cha Gheill.” Loosely translated: “No surrender.”
And so I took the harder road, but the better one, the more fulfilling one, the right one. My professional position has grown and changed in ways I could not have foreseen, and I am more engaged in my work than I have ever been. In my local community and my larger non-professional world I have friends and colleagues whom I know in new and different ways, and with whom I share many important goals and much fulfilling work.
And at home I have the renewed love of my wife and daughter. To my surprise, really, I have a balanced life, one that is dramatically changed from what it was, but one that is still good and still full.
Iain Bruce and his wife Linda.
And that brings us to our last lesson. Remember this place. Hold it close to your hearts, because it is sacred.
I observed earlier that you have made friends here, some perhaps the best friends of your life.
On the worst day of my life, 33 years after our own frosh week, 4 of my classmates dropped everything they were doing and drove hundreds of miles from 4 different cities to be with me.
Beyond your family, your classmates are your support network, and you are theirs. Be there when your friends call on you, and call on them when you need them. And remember where it began.
If you are like me and my classmates, and I suspect you are, Queen’s has shaped you in ways that are not yet fully discernible. You will come in time to realize that this place is not really a physical location, a building, or a campus, though all of that infrastructure is crucial to its mission and to your memory.
Queen’s is, really, a state of mind. It has imbued in you a perspective, a strength, a body of knowledge and intuition that will help equip you for what lies ahead, whatever that may be.
You have it in you to succeed, not only in the obvious ways visible through your professional life, but in the ways that matter to your family, to your friends, to your soul. Your life is up to you. Only you can recognize opportunity when it presents itself. Only you can act on that opportunity. Only you can balance your own needs, obligations, and goals.
But in doing that, you can depend on your friends to be there for you, and they can depend on you to be there for them.
Congratulations to you all. Go forth now, and make your mark.
(Iain Bruce’s speech begins about 24 minutes into this video.)
How does a teenager deliver a eulogy for his best friend?
If you’re Kevin Copeland, you do it with honesty, grace, poise — and plenty of humor.
The NYU freshman stood in front of hundreds at the Saugatuck Congregational Church Saturday afternoon and said goodbye to his longtime best friend, Cameron Bruce.
Just 3 months earlier the two were pictured in the Staples High School yearbook as the “Dynamic Duo” — the epitome of never-apart buddies, as voted by their senior classmates.
Kevin nailed it on Saturday. He brought tears to our eyes, and smiles to our faces — sometimes simultaneously. But hey — that’s what friends are for.
Here’s what he said.
Kevin Copeland and Cameron Bruce
Good afternoon everyone. My name is Kevin Copeland. I’d like to thank the Bruce family for letting me say a few words, and for giving me creative license on this one.
For many of you who know Cam, he was one of the most intelligent, mature, and well-spoken young men you ever met. He was bold, opinionated, well informed, and extremely polite.
Others of you may remember the kid whose favorite conversation topic was farts. I think it’s why we got along so well.
From the moment I met him, at the pinnacle of his spiky, blonde, chlorinated hair, we were friends. On the first day we met we found common ground in Led Zeppelin. He made me laugh so hard I peed my pants, and our friendship was set.
It was that strange kind of friendship that instantly makes sense, but grew over the years into something so much deeper. He came over whenever he didn’t have swimming, or trumpet lessons, or Norwalk Youth Symphony, or a deacons meeting, and slept over when he was allowed. We’d stay up all night talking about life, girls (the infinite mystery), other dimensions, and of course: farts.
I mention farts because fart jokes probably dominated a fifth of Cam’s brain. The other parts evenly split between music, girls, “Lost” (his favorite show), and zombies. My god, did Cam love zombies. Zombie movies, zombie video games, zombie comic books — it was incredible.
When he sat me down to watch any zombie movie, he took it very seriously. He’d say, “okay, we have to turn off every light in the basement, and it has to be louder, and we shouldn’t talk during the movie.” Yet he was always the one to scream right into your ear so you can’t hear anything else.
What really brought us together was our love of music. He showed me Shostakovich, I showed him Bad Brains. He showed me jazz great Wayne Shorter and I showed him Flying Lotus. (He had a little more sophisticated taste than I did.)
But we started a musical adventure that spanned our entire friendship, and every bit of it was amazing. We started a band of our own, and we would play for HOURS in my basement. We never wanted to stop. I can’t believe how my mom and stepdad put up with the hours and hours of high-volume rock music, right below the family room.
Occasionally we got out of the house, played shows at the teen center, and if I don’t mind saying so, we tore the place down. All thanks to Cameron’s contagious energy and spirit that no one could resist — and his inciting of giant mosh pits.
I think we can all agree that there is no one like Cam, and we were lucky to have him for 18 amazing years. He packed more into that 18 years than most people do in a full lifetime. Although we wish we could have him for longer, it was a true privilege to know him for as long as I did. Although we will always miss his joyful presence, I know that he changed all of our lives for the better. Whether it was his trumpet, his hugs, his dinosaur dance or his humungous smile, he made each day better just by being there.
But of all the things Cameron was a part of, I think the definition of his character was how hard he loved. He didn’t just like music; he LOVED it. He didn’t just have a crush on a girl; he fell in love with her EVERY SINGLE TIME. He used his whole heart, and for that I am so grateful. Because he is an example of how to love with every inch of your body.
I’ll never have another friend like him, but I am so so lucky to have known him and spent so much time with him. We weren’t just friends — we were married.
When Cam and I applied to different colleges, everyone asked us, “What are you gonna do?!” We said we’d be fine, because we knew that a bond like ours never dies. We were together all the time, and we spoke our own language. But even when we were apart, it didn’t make any less sense.
Most Friday nights we would stay in. When we weren’t playing music we’d play video games, eat an entire tray of Oreos, and watch some new TERRIFYING movie that Cam heard about.
And I can’t forget about my brother Chris, the third leg of the stool. We were the three Amigos. We would drive to Taco Bell in the unmistakable Volvo station wagon, listening to god knows what at incredible volume, just enjoying each other’s company, Cameron smiling from ear to ear. Most people never have a friendship like ours in their lifetime, and I was blessed, truly blessed to call him my best friend for 6 years.
That bond is still there. I still talk to him every day. I show him YouTube videos, songs, just chat. He’s with us everywhere we go. And although we have to say goodbye to an amazing person, we say hello to an equal spirit.
We’re gonna miss him every day. Because no one in the world could possibly dance like him. But we can’t have highs without lows, and we can’t have good without bad. And trying to stop our feelings is like trying to stop rain. We can’t control it, but rain is what makes flowers grow.
I know that he would want us to be happy and live our lives the way he lived his: full of love. He’s dancing right now. Just knowing that right there makes me smile.
Cameron Bruce died in a tragic accident outside his dorm in Kingston, Ontario on Monday.
A 2010 graduate of Staples High School, Cameron was a 1st-year student in engineering at Queen’s University in Kingston.
In his short life, Cameron left a lasting impact on those who knew him, and on the larger Westport community. He was an accomplished musician, playing trumpet in the Norwalk Youth Symphony for 5 years, where he was the assistant principal trumpet.
He attended New England Music Camp in Sidney, Maine, for 4 years, where he formed lasting bonds with musicians from around the country. With high school musicians from throughout Fairfield County, he was a member of the Youth Band for the United Nations in 2008 and 2009.
Cameron was an active participant in the Staples symphonic orchestra, band, and jazz band, and played taps at Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies in Westport, and at the Field of Flags tribute at Saugatuck Congregational Church in June of this year. Before taking up the trumpet, Cameron played the violin and attended the Mark O’Connor fiddle camp in Tennessee for two years.
He was a member of the Staples varsity swim team for all 4 of his years at Staples. In his senior year Cameron was a captain of the team, an Academic All American, and a Staples Scholar Athlete. (He played the “Star-Spangled Banner” at this past June’s banquet.)
Cameron swam the backstroke, breast stroke and individual medley, and was a finalist in both FCIAC and state LL competition in all 4 years. He swam with the Westport Weston Family Y Water WRAT team since elementary school. In 2010 he received the Edward T. Bedford award for Outstanding Youth at the Family Y.
At Staples Cameron was an AP Scholar with Distinction, a Commended 2010 National Merit Scholar, and he received the Staples Science Department Award for Outstanding Achievement in Forensics.
He was also active in Staples Players, in both the pit orchestra and as a One-Act Play actor in “A Wedding Story.”
And he was a dedicated “SuperFan,” an enthusiastic Staples boys soccer supporter.
Cameron was active in the Westport community, as a deacon at Saugatuck Congregational Church, and volunteering his time and musical talents at the Senior Center.
Cameron is survived by his sister Margot, his parents Linda and Iain Bruce, and his grandmother Shirley Bruce.
Visiting hours will be at Saugatuck Congregational Church on Friday September 24, 4-8 p.m. A funeral will be held at Saugatuck Congregational Church on Saturday, September 25 at 2 p.m. A celebration of Cameron’s life will be held during the Thanksgiving weekend in November.
Donations in Cameron’s memory may be made to the Cameron Bruce Scholarship for Trumpet at New England Music Camp, 8 Goldenrod Lane, Sidney, ME 04330, or for a grant that will be established in his memory, at Staples Tuition Grants, PO Box 5159, Westport, CT 06881-5159.
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