The former captain of the starship Enterprise has told university graduates in his hometown that they should boldly go forward to seek out their future.

William Shatner, best known as Capt. James T. Kirk of the Star Trek franchise, was given an honorary doctorate of Letters at Montreal's McGill University, his alma mater.

The 80-year-old star got thunderous applause when he took the stage to get the award Thursday morning.

He hinted in his address that he had not always hit the books hard when he was at McGill.

Shatner also told graduates they should never be afraid to take chances or fail.

li-shatner-620-cp00770614

William Shatner is congratulated by chancellor Arnold Steinberg as he receives an honourary degree from McGill University, his alma mater. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

"The road of life isn't linear. It isn't Sherbrooke Street," Shatner told the audience. "It's more like Côte-des-Neiges. It's a country route, dusty and dirty, with soft shoulders and high banks.

"Don't be afraid of taking chances."

The Montreal-born Shatner, who has won Emmy Awards, jokingly said he never shied away from making an ass of himself and it worked out pretty well for him.

He graduated from the university in 1952 with a commerce degree before making his mark as an actor in such movies as Judgment at Nuremberg and TV shows including Boston Legal and TJ Hooker.

Shatner has also authored best-selling books.

Take chances, but not necessarily in space

Shatner admitted his reticence about the final frontier that has made him a pop culture icon.

si-shatner-220-cp00770506

Shatner is hooded by professor Victoria Kapsi at the McGill ceremony. (Canadian Press)

"I'm scared," the 80-year-old told a news conference, after receiving his doctorate. 

Shatner publicly expressed reticence years ago when asked whether he might ever take advantage of new opportunities in space travel.

He went further Thursday, explaining at a news conference why it won't happen.

Virgin Galactic, one of billionaire Richard Branson's many companies, has already booked more than 300 suborbital flights.

The company hopes to complete its test phase and begin launching flights next year. Its plan for suborbital flights means its ships would go up into space, without completing an orbit of the Earth.

Fourteen of those signed up to fly are Canadians. Shatner says Branson offered him a spot — which would have cost him $200,000 US.

"I said, 'Well, that's not much, [but] how much do you guarantee to come back?' And he didn't have a price on that," Shatner quipped.

"He [Branson] wanted me to go up and pay for it and I said: 'Hey, you pay me and I'll go up. I'll risk my life for a large sum of money' ... But he didn't pick me up on my offer."

It was widely reported in September 2006 that the Star Trek legend was offered a ticket by Branson aboard Virgin Galactic's first passenger flight — which was originally planned for 2008.

At the time, Shatner said he was worried about getting sick.

"I'm interested in man's march into the unknown but to vomit in space is not my idea of a good time. Neither is a fiery crash with the vomit hovering over me," he said at the time.