Joseph Sorbara urges grads to give back to their communities

Understanding that it is better to give than to receive was one of the most important life lessons that Toronto real estate developer, lawyer and York University volunteer Joseph Sorbara (LLB ’68) learned from his father Sam.

"That simple message has inspired my extracurricular life, which includes everything I do outside my business life," Sorbara told graduands on Tuesday afternoon. 

Right: Joseph Sorbara

"The feeling of having given something for which I expected no personal return was most gratifying," he said.

"As you graduate today and pursue job opportunities and further studies, don’t forget to work for the needs of others in your community. The payback can be enormous and will deliver to you added confidence that offers benefits in aspects of your life," he said.

Sorbara was speaking to graduates of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) after receiving an honorary doctor of laws degree. An alumnus of Osgoode Hall Law School, Sorbara has given more than a decade of volunteer service to the University. He was appointed to the York Board of Governors in 1988 and made an honorary governor in 2000 after 12 years of service. He is currently the chair of the Board of Directors of the York University Development Corporation. He is also a former member of the York University Foundation Board of Directors and in 2004 was awarded a Bruce Bryden Alumni Recognition Award for his many contributions to the University. Sorbara has not limited his volunteer service to York University and works on behalf of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the York-Finch General Hospital and the North York General Hospital. And he found time for all this while working as a principal with The Sorbara Group and practising law with the firm Tanzola & Sorbara.

"Giving back to your community is an act of creative gratitude which builds our confidence and helps us face the challenges in our lives," he said. "It is one of life’s self-reinforcing patterns that we should embrace as part of our routines."

He recalled his undergraduate years at St. Michael’s College as a student of English literature. Deciding that he wanted to be a poet, he told his father about his career aspirations. "You can imagine that back in the early 1960s, this was not a career choice that impressed my late father. His primary concern was that as a poet I could not support a family," said Sorbara. "A concern that was certainly understandable coming from a man who arrived in Canada from Italy as a boy with no money, a less than basic elementary education, a largely absentee father and a mother who died when he was a teenager, leaving him to look after his brother and two sisters."

Despite these challenges, Sorbara said his father became a successful businessman who made a point of giving back to his community. "During his lifetime, his message to his children was that it was always more personally rewarding to give rather than to receive," said Sorbara.

Above: Sorbara (left) with Chancellor Roy McMurtry and President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri

He urged graduates not to wait for what he called the big moment. "The big moment never comes, it is always around the corner and if it is what we wait for in life to act, it demeans the rest of our life," he said. "We will accomplish more if we consider the big moment as a bonus for the activity of continually appreciating the value of and the meaning of the smallest things."

"Opportunities are constantly available for all of us to make a difference. The right place is wherever you are and the right time is every day of your life," he said. 

"To live life as we would have others remember us, we have to act in the present," he told grads in closing. "Make our contribution, financial or otherwise to society, it will give us so many opportunities. Do it while you can. Waiting for the future is a risky game.

"Today is the time to make a difference," he said. "Experience the joy of giving and I urge you not to wait until the time is just right because it never will be."

York’s 2010 Spring Convocation ceremonies are streamed live and then archived on the Internet. To view Sorbara’s convocation address, visit the Convocation Web site.