Samuel Schwartz stood before graduands during spring convocation ceremonies for the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies on June 16 and spoke quietly about the lessons his passion for the law, community service and volunteer work has taught him.
“I stand before you appreciative of this opportunity humbled by the University’s choice to bestow upon me an Honorary Doctorate,” he said with a gentle smile. “Today, I would like to share two important messages about the road ahead and a call to community service.”
Schwartz, who is a lawyer, community builder and volunteer was conferred with an honorary doctor of laws degree by York U in recognition for his exceptional and selfless work as a volunteer and friend of the University. A graduate of York University, Schwartz (MA ’69, LLB ’72) is a highly regarded corporate lawyer. He is the Toronto managing partner of the law firm DLA Piper (Canada) LLP. Over a 40-year career, he has built an extensive corporate practice focused on biotechnology, intellectual property and financing. Schwartz was on the University’s Board of Governors for 12 years and is now an honorary governor. He was one of the five recipients of the University’s 2014 Bryden Alumni Award for Outstanding Contribution.
There are very few certainties in life, he told grads but assured them that their success and his own personal success would not have been so sweet if it were not for the help family, friends and members of the University community. This is a gift, he said that should not be taken lightly.
“When I reflect on my life in Canada, I am struck by the opportunities afforded me. Freedoms of all kinds, freedom to pursue dreams and opportunities and most importantly freedom to be who we are and who we want to be,” he said, noting that York University, was built on a similar foundation — a dream and a vision of diversity and inclusion.
“Yes, but for this amazing institution, I would not be here today and neither would any of you,” he said. “So with gratitude to all of those people whose contributions large and small helped me to reach the point of receiving this honour today, I sincerely, from the heart, thank you. I am sure one of your big question, ‘now I have my degree what am I going to do with it?’. That question can seem daunting, but remember the fact that you are here today demonstrates that you have already succeeded in meeting all kinds of challenges at this tremendous university, which in my opinion, is a match for any postsecondary institution.”
The road ahead won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding, Schwartz told grads.and this is because their career paths will be less certain. “The career path of many university graduates is more complicated and uncertain. Maybe it is, but it’s also richer,” he said. “Today, you can expect your life to take you through a number of careers, shaped by your education, your willingness to recognize, embrace and make opportunities. Serendipity will pay a role as well. You will do things you never thought possible.
“Seize every opportunity to continue to learn. Learning comes not just through classes, but also through experience, time with mentors and most importantly, interacting with your peers. Continue to invest in yourself, you are your own best investment. Keep defining the ‘Brand Called You,’ one that captures all of your special qualities,” he said. “Each of you have shown through your journey to today that you have something special to offer any employer. Seek out graduates of York and ask them how they got to where they are. They will, in most cases, be honoured to spend time with you and you will be surprised how much they are like you.”
He implored grads to get involved in their communities. “Here is my pitch to you, please find time to get involved in your community. Do things you are passionate about. You will make a difference. And I promise you, the time you spend building and enriching your community will enrich you, your families and even your work. By your commitment to community you will make our city, our province and country and beyond a better place. You have so much to contribute as future leaders,” he said.
He spoke about his own community service, which he said has provided an opportunity to meet people that he said he would never have had a chance to meet. “They have enhanced my life in so many ways,” he said. “Call it the Internet of Human Beings, call it a co-op society — the interconnectedness of our world simply negates even the possibility of doing something, anything on your own.
“While community service is rooted in giving, for me it has been an immensely rewarding reciprocal relationship. Some of the best feelings I’ve ever had and are as a result of being able to see others shine,” said Schwartz. “A special joy for me has been the opportunity to mentor a number of students from York and elsewhere and watch them excel in their life’s work.
“Class of 2015, know this, there are no limits for you,” he said. “The world is your domain. Do everything you can to enjoy it, treasure it, care for it and improve it.”
York’s 2015 spring convocation ceremonies are streamed live and then archived online. Schwartz’s convocation address will be archived at the conclusion of spring convocation ceremonies. To view his address, visit the Convocation webcast archive.