A chance encounter almost six years ago, coupled with a request from a graduating student prior to Thursday’s convocation ceremony, inspired Canadian jurist and Chief Justice of Ontario Warren Winkler to put aside his prepared speech and speak from the heart.
Winkler had just received an honorary doctor of laws degree from York University during Spring Convocation ceremonies for graduating students from Osgoode Hall Law School. Turning from the podium, he said, “I originally had a prepared speech on my favourite topic – which is mediation – but you won’t hear that today. Last Thursday afternoon, I received a moving and poignant letter from a member of this graduating class. She asked that I tell you a story that I told last October during the opening of the new Osgoode Hall Law School Building.”
The story Winkler recounted related to an event that took place almost six years earlier, during the first day of orientation for first-year students at Osgoode Hall Law School. As part of the orientation, Winkler was to deliver a speech at a dinner for the incoming class. During a tour of the historic Osgoode Hall Building in downtown Toronto that preceded the dinner, Winkler overheard one student comment to another: “Why are they are trolling this past us? We will never be in here again for the rest of our lives.”
When it came time for his presentation, Winkler spoke candidly to the group about what he had overhead. “I had the same view almost 50 years ago when I first arrived at the Osgoode Hall building,” he said.
A native of Pincher Creek, Alberta, he said that as a student he made it a habit to visit the Osgoode Building, where he would say to himself, “Enjoy the moment, because you will never get there.”
To the students gathered at the orientation dinner, Winkler said, “Don’t sell yourself short, reach for the stars, follow your heart, don’t be afraid to fail – just be afraid not to take up a challenge. Each and every one of you has the ability and the opportunity to accomplish any single thing you want to.”
He was followed out of the dinner by a student who said to him, “Every single person in the room got your message.”
Then last year, at the opening of the Osgoode Building, Winkler finally met the young man who had made the original comment. Now a successful lawyer, he told Winkler that he wanted him to know that there was a new ending for his story. “Where does that bring us? Well today, the degree that you’ve earned is the key to a door that opens up the entire future for each and every one of you,” he said.
He asked students to have hope for the future. “It won’t be rosy. There will be bumps and uncertainty,” he said. “You have entered a community of some 40,000 lawyers in Ontario. For those times when you are unsure, or don’t know what to do, start today and build a network to help you through.”
Winkler read out loud a portion of the letter he received from the young woman in the graduating class. In it, she told him that the story he recounted at the Osgoode opening had struck a chord with her.
He closed with this statement of reassurance: “I want you to know that we understand, and each and every one of us wants you to succeed.”