Marion Boyd, a social justice advocate and political pioneer, was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree during convocation ceremonies at Glendon College. Boyd received the honour on Saturday, June 24.
A graduate of Glendon College, Boyd (BA ‘68) is a well-known and passionate advocate for the rights of marginalized community members and a well-respected public service leader. First elected in 1990 as MPP of London Centre for the NDP, she held several cabinet appointments, serving as minister of education, minister of community and social services and minister responsible for women’s issues. In 1993 she was the first woman and non-lawyer to be appointed as attorney general.
Since her time in politics, she has led a task force on the effects of domestic violence on women and investigated the use of sharia law in Ontario family law arbitration.
In her convocation address to Glendon graduands, Boyd recalled how her experience at Glendon and her work after graduation as an assistant to York University’s president shaped her career and values.
The one thing that graduates can be certain about is change, said Boyd, noting that changes in sociopolitical, legal, educational and family life seem to be happening at an increasingly fast pace every year. Technology, she said, has resulted in massive changes to the labour market, jobs that were considered secure and lifelong are disappearing at a disconcerting speed, requiring workers to retrain or get left behind.
“The education you have received here at Glendon was designed to prepare you for changes in life and work, and to foster in you a love for lifelong education,” said Boyd. She described her education at Glendon as being broad with specialized courses in a wide variety of academic disciplines, something she said encouraged flexibility of thought, analytical skills, language proficiencies and an ability to go with the times and embrace diversity.
Boyd told graduands that the first principal of Glendon, F. Scott Reid, installed in 1966, was an articulate public servant himself, who envisioned an education that would prepare students to live a full life of service to their country and their communities. “Students were constantly counselled to be mindful of their entire being and it was symbolized by the sculpture The Whole Person [on the Glendon campus], when we took people on tours of the campus, we always stopped there, good visual representation of what it means to be mindful of their entire being,” she said.
“As students of Glendon, we were encouraged to be active and engaged in all aspects of college life and the broader community,” she said. “Even when our activities in the civil rights movement or the anti-Vietnam protests, or the student movement or the emerging feminist movement, led to dismay and embarrassment on the part of faculty and administration, our right to be involved was never at issue, it was our methods. Even though some of us were too young to vote, we felt entitled to explore all our options and decide how we might have voted had we been able to do so.
“Respectful debate was fostered and issues explored from all points of view. The intended and unintended consequences of proposed policies, both here at the University and in government were explored and avidly discussed,” said Boyd.
The lessons she learned carry through to current times. “Every single choice that we make in life is crucial and our choices not only form our own being but have a real impact on the future of our society and our relationships. As existential beings, we are forced to take responsibility for our actions and our communications, we are enabled to make new choices when previous ones have found to be inadequate, however unintended the consequences might be,” she said.
What seems to be unclear to many in the world today is that when individuals opt out of making choices in politics, social justice, the legal system, they are shirking their responsibility to be actively involved in creating their lived reality, observed Boyd.
She urged graduands to get involved, to vote, to be active and engaged. She asked graduands to make the best use of their Glendon education and York University degrees. “Statistics are clear that engagement in the democratic process in Canada, in any level of government, is less with each successive election or referendum,” she said, noting as well that many in society avoid jury duty and object to paying taxes.
“What is not recognized is the choice not to get involved, not to be engaged is itself a choice and one that undermines the very base of a democratic society,” she said. “Indeed some days I think the choice not to act may be more detrimental than any of the options that are presented. Think of the recent British referendum on BREXIT, statistics show that young people were grossly underrepresented among those who voted on either the pro or con side. They did not vote in large numbers on the issue even though their future prosperity largely depended on what is at stake. And yet when the outcome of the referendum was known, large numbers suddenly became vocal and actively supported staying in the European Union even though the decision was already made in the absence of their votes on either side.”
She warned graduands that a choice not to become involved could result in a situation such as the outcome of the recent American election.
In closing, she passed the baton to graduands, asking them to take their education and use it for the public good, to vote and to become engaged in shaping the civil society for future generations.