The Hon. Michael Wilson, P.C., C.C., B.Com., LL.D.
Chancellor of the University of Toronto
Address to Convocation on the Occasion of his Installation as the 33rd Chancellor of the University of Toronto
November 12, 2012
Professor Naylor; Mr. Nunn; distinguished members of the platform party; esteemed representatives of our sister institutions; faculty, staff, and alumni; graduands, family and friends; ladies and gentlemen:
I would like to thank those who spoke before me here, for their generous words. This is a very exciting opportunity for me to interact with the students, faculty, and alumni of this great university, and to interact also with our sister universities across this province.
Let me begin with the most important reason why we are here today. To the members of the University of Toronto Class of 2012, I say: Congratulations! And to your family and friends, who have supported you in reaching this milestone: Welcome, and congratulations to you also.
The University is an institution, but more than that, it is a community – faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. Convocation is the formal gathering of that community; and seeing you graduate is one of the high points in our life and work together. We are proud of you, our students, who will be in a few moments our newest Toronto alumni. We share in your excitement, looking ahead to your adventures and accomplishments in the years to come.
The University of Toronto is Canada’s leading institution of advanced research and research-intensive education, and one of the finest in the world. That status, that global reach and impact, is the result of the talent and hard work of the remarkable people who make up the University of Toronto community. It is also the legacy of those who have gone before us. It is therefore a tremendous privilege for me, as an alumnus of this great, good place, to serve now as your 33rd Chancellor.
For that reason I would like to thank Dr. Françoise Ko and the College of Electors. I am honoured by your confidence in me, in electing me to serve as your Chancellor. (And this I believe will be my last election!) I look forward to my role in this and future Convocation ceremonies, celebrating the moments when students become graduates. And I look forward to being the University’s advocate and ambassador.
In this latter work I am certainly not alone. It has been said before, because it is true and important: Our alumni are our most effective and influential ambassadors. And what a compelling argument we can make for our alma mater!
From insulin to stem cells, from cosmic black holes to The Gutenberg Galaxy, our faculty and students have made Toronto a leading centre of discovery and innovation. From peacekeeping to Free the Children, from Degrassi to The English Patient, our graduates have made our world a better and more beautiful place.
We have so much to be proud of. And the members of the Class of 2012 will add to that record, each in your own way. You will make a difference – by following your dreams, using your talents, and giving back to your community and your country.
We hope your experiences here have prepared you well for this. The University of Toronto’s extraordinary diversity makes it an ideal place to learn, in our increasingly complex, globalized world.
We see it even in our institutional structure. Each of the colleges on this campus has its own history and distinctive academic traditions. And U of T Mississauga and U of T Scarborough have evolved into impressive mid-sized comprehensive universities in their own right, in our unique tri-campus system.
There is incredible diversity also in our programs – everything from Aboriginal Studies to Yiddish. I understand Zoology goes by another name now, but you get my point: from A to Z, this university offers a breadth of academic options which few other universities can match.
But most remarkable of all, is the diversity of the U of T community itself. For example, as Professor Naylor has noted in his blog, this year’s first-year undergraduate students come from 111 countries and over 900 municipalities around the world. Now, the UN has 193 countries represented around that table; but 111 is an extraordinary record of achievement and diversity. This is in addition to the rich heritage of our students from the Toronto metropolitan region, the world’s most multicultural metropolis. It is truly marvellous.
But why does it matter? Why is diversity so important? It’s important in the way a library is important. We can’t learn everything from one book. The more broadly we read, the more we can know and enjoy the world around us. It’s the same with diversity. We learn from each other. We grow by sharing our backgrounds, our experiences, and our perspectives. And the more the world is represented in our community, the more we can understand the common challenges we face, and work together to meet them.
Canada has an important role to play in this effort. In fact as Canadians we must commit to increasing our presence in the global community. This applies not only to expanding our trade relationships and attracting investment to our country. It also includes promoting Canadian arts and culture more widely. And above all, it is about sharing responsibility for addressing the great global issues of our time. These include geopolitical, defense, and environmental issues, but also health care and education – key factors in social and economic progress.
We must stay curious about and engaged in what is happening in the world. Having the opportunity to attend a great university like the University of Toronto, has helped prepare you to reach outside this country. Learning from and contributing to the diversity around us, you will be able to make your mark in whatever field you choose.
And as you start the next chapter of your life – whether you are moving on to work, further studies, or other adventures – I encourage you to be active members of our University community. There are so many ways to be involved. Our alumni are crucial to our success – especially to the success of our students. And every member of our alumni has something to contribute, according to their interests, insights, and expertise.
Ladies and gentlemen, in closing I would like to offer a personal reflection on the choices now opening to each of our graduands. Joseph Nye, former Dean of Harvard Kennedy School, encourages leaders to be “tri-sector athletes.” By this he means that more and more, leaders need to be experienced in business, government, and civil society.
I’ve been fortunate in my career to work in all three – the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors: in the investment business; as a Member of Parliament, Minister, and Ambassador; and in my work with the Canadian Cancer Society and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, among other not-for-profit commitments.
I encourage all of you to be triathletes. In each part of my career there has always been an upward learning curve. But certainly it has been worth the effort – challenging, invigorating, and rewarding. I have learned so much from each experience; from the great variety of experiences I’ve had so far; and from the many different and interesting people I’ve had the privilege to meet along the way, and to learn from.
Through it all I have gained enormous satisfaction and a much better understanding of the world in all its complexity and diversity. I have no hesitation in saying I have enjoyed every bit of the different lives I have led. And I believe I am a better man as a result. And now I am launched on a new learning experience, full circle back to my alma mater, learning from you and your experience here at the University of Toronto.
To the members of the Class of 2012: Good luck to all of you. Keep in touch with the University and the friends you have made here. Look around you today; some of those friends will be friends for life. And above all, have fun – and whatever you decide to do for your career, enjoy it. If you do, as they say, you will never work another day in your life!
Again, congratulations to our graduands. And thank you for the profound honour of letting me serve as Chancellor of this great university.