‘Remember, every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up’


Above, left to right: Robert Rabinovitch, Avie J. Bennett and Lorna R. Marsden

Spring may have been late this year and damper than usual, but York’s graduating classes blossomed with as much enthusiasm as ever when Spring Convocation 2003 got underway.

York’s convocation planners were eager, too. They came up with an idea to help the crowds of lost families and friends seeking the special reception that follows each ceremony – until now, held at a variety of college locations. This year, for ceremonies associated with colleges as well as with faculties, there is a central reception tri-hosted by the college, faculty and alumni office.

Now guests head to the Centre for Film & Theatre lobby and are entertained with a jazz band and great food. Some new alumni get the opportunity to chat with President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden and Chancellor Avie J. Bennett, who regularly drop by, fresh from a ceremony and still in their robes.

Since Friday, June 13, seven York convocation ceremonies have taken place in the voluminous, white marquee – Convocation Pavilion – erected on the lawn on the east side of the Centre for Film & Theatre.

Marsden greets students, family and friends at each ceremony with the statement that “real life happens here.” She talks of York as a modern university which reflects “the complexity of the world in which we live…. We embrace modern-day challenges in our classrooms and throughout research. And we channel all our resources and intelligence to arrive at solutions and provide leadership.

“This gives our students some wonderful advantages. They learn in an environment that isn’t bound by dusty traditions. They become involved in world issues. They challenge outdated ways of thinking, without feeling like outsiders themselves,” says Marsden.

“We recognize that you will unquestionably go on to do the unexpected, to be groundbreakers, innovators, leaders in every field. You have become the sort of people we all want to know.

By the time the ceremonies end, York will have conferred honorary doctorates on 11 individuals who are outstanding in their fields. Here is what some recent recipients have been saying.

Left: Seymour Schulich, right, with Avie J. Bennett

Seymour Schulich, a highly-successful businessman and major donor to York University, received an honorary doctor of laws at the Schulich School of Business ceremony. He has helped fund numerous University scholarships, academic chairs and key building projects, including the new Schulich School of Business and Executive Learning Centre, due to open on the Keele campus this fall.

Schulich had some pointed words of wisdom for the graduating class. “Remember, every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle: when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

Schulich’s speech was filled with sage advice mixed with humour. “First and most important,” he offered, “you cannot make serious mistakes until you are over 35 years old. As long as your studies and work are in legal areas of endeavour, it doesn’t really matter what you study or where you work. However, at 35 years of age you had better figure out your career path.”

And Schulich was big on urging graduating students to give something back to York University. “Many of you won scholarships and financial support while here. If you achieve great business success, never forget what winning a scholarship meant to you. Continue the legacy of offering worthy students incentives and recognition for their efforts.

“The perpetuation and encouragement of free enterprise and entrepreneurship is perhaps the noblest thing we can ever do for our country and mankind.”

Martin L. Friedland, one of Canada’s top criminal law scholars and historians, former dean and professor of law emeritus at University of Toronto, and author or editor of 17 books, received an honorary doctorate of laws degree at the Osgoode Hall Law School ceremony.

“I’m not sure that I have any universal advice to give my fellow graduates,” said Friedland. “I can tell you that I do not have any special talents that you do not possess. Every project that I worked on required great determination to complete, long hours of work, and the willingness to re-evaluate the overall plan of the project as the work progressed.”

Friedland spoke of the meandering route that took him to where he is today. “One’s career path is rarely as straight and predictable as you think it will be,” he said.

He applied a similar observation to institutions. “York University itself has taken a number of unexpected turns,” he said, citing its origins as part of the University of Toronto, its metamorphosis into a fully-fledged university and its somewhat ambivalent relationship with U of T. “York was determined to be both independent of, and competitive with, the University of Toronto,” said Friedland, who has written a history of U of T. York, he noted, developed a number of strong professional schools, such as Osgoode when it affiliated, but the University was unable to start a medical school after the U of T increased its medical enrolment. “Perhaps it is not surprising that York was nervous about U of T’s intentions.”

To the audience, Friedland said, “Those graduating today are joining a profession that has and continues to make great contributions to the well-being of society. You will have the opportunities to do so, whether as a practising lawyer, a civil servant, an academic or in one of the many occupations where having a law degree is a distinct advantage. Some of you will make contributions in all of these categories.”

Right: Robert Rabinovitch

Robert Rabinovitch (left), president and CEO of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and a major force behind Canada’s broadcasting policies, received an honorary doctor of laws degree at the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies ceremony.

Rabinovitch applauded York’s motto, Tentanda Via – the way must be tried. “The York of today has grown into a place of daring thinking, uncommon approaches and unexpected results…. You are graduands of a unique school at York, a school that is responsive to the personal and professional development needs of working adults.

“Many of you received your education while combining work and studies. I respect you even more for the perseverance you have demonstrated.”

Rabinovitch talked of his education, his varied career and the challenges he has undertaken at CBC, then urging students to remember that they are a product of a country “whose achievements stem from the solid concepts of shared responsibility, diversity and opportunity for all.”

“Now, York has equipped you to take on positions of leadership,” he said. “I’m not talking about the flashy leader-as-hero…. I’m talking about leadership as citizenship in action, as payback for the privilege of living in a society that gives us so much. Get involved. Speak out. Act.”