Postsecondary students and youth from across Canada met Feb. 6 and 7 in Ottawa to discuss their inspirations and aspirations for Canada’s future at Universities Canada’s Converge 2017 conference. The conference is one of the latest in a series of nationwide events celebrating Canada’s sesquicentennial.
York University was represented at the conference by two delegates, BES student Nishal Shah and MEd student Melinda Phuong. Shah and Phuong were also designated social media ambassadors for the conference and shared their experiences at Converge 2017 live on Twitter, Instagram and through a takeover of the Office of the President’s Snapchat account.
The two-day event featured several high-profile presenters and speakers, including Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, who led a Q&A on Canada’s next 50 years and Indspire President & CEO and York honorary degree recipient Roberta Jamieson (LLD ’03), who delivered a keynote on Canada’s indigenous peoples, education and reconciliation. Dominic Barton, global managing partner of McKinsey & Company and Chair of the Advisory Council on Economic Growth, led a talk on how Canada can make a big global impact despite a relatively small population. At the conference, Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke also delivered remarks and recited poetry.
Conference participants joined working groups and attended breakout sessions as part of a visioning process to imagine what Canada will be like in 2017 and how young people might contribute to helping Canada reach its greatest potential.
After returning from the conference, York’s student representatives recounted their experiences at Converge 2017 and the opportunity to consider how their work might help build the Canada of the future.
“My personal takeaways from [the conference] were that Canada has the potential to be a global leader,” said Shah, York’s undergraduate student representative. “We are a country that is welcoming to everyone, [and] diversity is our greatest strength. While we are a country that has one of the best-educated work forces, we do not utilize this to its maximum potential. This is because we are not including the participation of indigenous people, immigrants and women, particularly in top business positions.
“It is a pivotal time for Canada to strengthen its workforce due to an increase in the ageing population. […] Another vital discourse was the importance of postsecondary students having the opportunity to go abroad to study and work,” said Shah. “The greatest benefit of going abroad is that Canadians tend to become even more accepting of others and have a greater grasp of new ideas. Moreover, going out in the world ensures Canadians are recognized and that there are more global connections, which result in bringing back more investment and jobs into the country.
“My vision for the coming year is to strive to make York University an even more inclusive and welcoming space for all Indigenous peoples, refugees and immigrants,” said Shah. “I will also work to support and encourage young innovators to be bold and brave in all that they pursue.”
Graduate student representative Melinda Phuong said, “Converge 2017 has helped reinforce three of my core values: education, empathy, and citizenship, which I strongly believe are fundamental to a brighter, more engaged and inclusive Canadian society. It was truly a privilege to meet such a diverse group of leaders who hold an abundance of knowledge and unique lived experiences.
“The inspiring keynotes and numerous engaging discussions have allowed me to see the tremendous capacity of Canadian universities, especially when they take on innovative ways to collaborate with communities and with other institutions. I have come out of Converge 2017 more empowered and with an enriched personal support system. Moving forward, I hope to further contribute my ideas to the conversations at York University and continue working towards my vision for Canada in 2067,” said Phuong.
The conference’s closing speaker was the Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, who underscored the important role youth play in protecting and educating their communities and in building a Canada that is welcoming and inclusive for all.