William MacDonald Evans says the best lesson is how to think

Graduands of York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering and Faculty of Science heard during their spring convocation ceremony on June 22 that the most important lesson learned during their studies was “how to think”.

William MacDonald Evans

William MacDonald Evans, former president of the Canadian Space Agency, spoke to students and their guests during the University’s ninth convocation ceremony after receiving an honorary doctor of laws.

Evans is a distinguished senior federal public servant whose career spans over 30 years in the Canadian space program and includes extensive experience in research, project management, policy development, international relations and senior management in several federal departments. Since retiring, Evans has been a consultant and remains an enthusiastic supporter of York’s Centre for Research in Earth and Space Science and space science programming.

Evans thanked York for the “immense honour”, and remarked that the University is a “major force behind much of Canada’s world-class space science program”. He acknowledged York scientists and engineers for their ground-breaking research on the ozone layer and pollution of the earth’s atmosphere, and praised York’s participation in a space mission set to happen in 2020.

Graduating students, he said, should be honored and recognized for their hard work.

“Now you are ready to leave the York incubator that has been your home for so many years, and make your way into the wonderful but complex world that awaits you,” he said.

Some graduates will enter the workforce, some will continue their studies, but all will have an impact on the world – a world that is changing more dramatically and faster than ever before, he said.

“Some of you may be concerned about how well you may be prepared … but you need not worry. I know from working with so many of your predecessors here at York, that your experience here has given you the academic tools that you need, but also the life skills required for lasting success,” said Evans. “You are indeed very fortunate to be graduates of York University.”

Students graduating may now realize it now, but have learned a lot more than what has come from a classroom, such as vital communications skills, how to be successful team players, how to build meaningful relationships, and how to think.

“Most importantly, you have learned how to think,” he said. “How to reason and how to persuade, those are very key elements of what you will bring to the world. This is what York has given you.”

Chancellor Greg Sorbara, William MacDonald Evans and President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri

He listed some of York’s alumni – a head of state, a Nobel Prize winning scientist, outstanding engineers and scientist, a Canadian astronaut, world famous actors, award winning journalist, business leaders, and provincial and federal politicians – and noted they have all taken their York experience and used it as a base for making the world a better place for all of humanity.

“You have been instilled with the same qualities,” he said.

Evans also reminded graduands that the world they enter today will be vastly different from the world they leave when they exit their careers. When he graduated 53 years ago, he said, at total of 143 people received engineering degrees – none of them women, and only a handful were visible minorities. He also recalled that five years after graduating, NASA placed the first human on the moon using a computer that had only 64 KB of memory, weighing 32 kg and measuring the size of a piece a carry-on luggage.

“Computing power that put a man on the moon is one-millionth of the power of a cell phone that each of us carries in our pockets today,” he said. “All of that happened in a period of 50 years.”

Learning how to think, reason and persuade is what will drive graduands forward in their lives, he offered.

“University taught me the value of learning and instilled in me the curiosity need to learn after university,” he said. “Today we mark the beginning of your ability to impact Canada, and indeed the world.”