Rhonda L. Lenton becomes York University’s eighth president and vice-chancellor

Rhonda L. Lenton was officially installed as York University’s eighth president and vice-chancellor during an inspiring ceremony held on Wednesday, Oct. 18 at the Aviva Centre on York University’s Keele campus.

The ceremony preceded the 2017 Fall Convocation ceremonies for graduates of the Faculty of Science, Glendon College, Osgoode Hall Law School and the Schulich School of Business.

Above: From left, Senate of York University Chair Lesley Beagrie, York University Board of Governors Chair Rick Waugh, York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton, and York University Chancellor Gregory Sorbara

Lenton solemnly spoke the oath of office after it was delivered by York University Chancellor Gregory Sorbara in the presence of the University’s Board of Governors Chair Rick Waugh and Senate of York University Chair Lesley Beagrie. After donning the ceremonial robes of her office, the University’s newly minted president and vice-chancellor and the third woman to hold the office, delivered a moving and celebratory speech that outlined her vision for the University. (For the full text of Lenton’s address, click here.)

Rhonda L. Lenton delivers her first formal address as president

In her first formal address as president, Lenton outlined the four pillars that will underpin the University during her five-year term. “We stand together at a moment when Canada has the opportunity to be a leader in mobilizing an inclusive response to the complex problems facing the world,” said Lenton. “York can contribute much and I believe our success will rest on four pillars: access, connectedness, excellence and impact.”

In considering the first pillar of access, Lenton pledged to remove barriers that prevent access to postsecondary education. “We must remove barriers so that all bright and highly motivated people can take advantage of what the university can give to them, and so they in turn can contribute to the welfare of others,” she said.

She spoke of redoubling the University’s commitment to recruiting more mature students, Indigenous Canadians, people of colour, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ2+ communities and citizens from around the world.

Lenton then focused on connectedness. “No longer is it sufficient to think of the university as a distinct physical location devoted to teaching and research. We must become more distributed and more fluid in terms of how we collaborate with local, national and global partners in government, academia, the not-for-profit and private sectors, and in terms of how students obtain their degrees,” said Lenton.

“Technology and globalization are enabling our efforts in achieving that goal by collapsing barriers between people from different cultures, enhancing international exchanges and global research networks, and by facilitating pedagogical innovation in ways that will continue to profoundly impact how students access information, and how students learn both on and off campuses,” she added.

In terms of the third pillar of excellence, Lenton spoke of the considerable progress the University has made with respect to academic excellence. “The amplification of our scholarship, research and creative activities is evident in the steady increase of our published work and Tri-Council Funding, including in particular our success in large-scale, collaborative initiatives that leverage York’s well-established leadership in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary programs,” she said and referred to the $120-million Canada First Research Excellence Fund for the Vision Science to Application initiative; the Canadian Observatory for Homelessness; the first-ever sampling mission by NASA to the asteroid Bennu; and a $4-million Emergency & Disaster Management simulation facility.

She also referred to plans that are underway for a pan-University entrepreneurship and innovation plan that will bridge research application, student engagement and hands-on learning.

The fourth and final pillar of her presidency relates to impact. In one sense, York University’s impact on the world is the result of increased access, connectedness and excellence, said Lenton. “By opening the University’s doors to all eligible students, broadening and deepening our ties to the communities we serve, and improving the quality of the work we do, York’s impact will be magnified many times over,” she said.

Above: From left, President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton with Presidents Emeriti Mamdouh Shoukri, Lorna R. Marsden, Harry W. Arthurs, and H. Ian Macdonald

Then speaking directly to the graduands who would soon be crossing the stage in their own convocation, she invited them to be ambassadors for York University and to remain engaged with their alma mater.

“You are York’s best ambassadors. What you tell others about the value of your experience here will make us shine,” she said. “We also very much hope that you will stay engaged with your alma mater. How you choose to help us as mentors of new students, sources of ideas for how we can do better, as participants in our programs, and in other roles that do not yet exist and, frankly, have not yet been conceived, will help to determine our success.”

Lenton concluded her installation address with a hopeful and positive observation. “Canada today is an ideal platform from which to leap into the world and change it for the better. I have never been more certain that York is the university to create and lead that change. York’s motto is tentanda via: the way must be tried. I believe the best is yet to come.”

Above: Indigenous Knowledge Keeper Amy Desjarlais performs a celebratory song

Witnessing this historic event in York University’s history were graduands and their families, members from the University’s Board of Governors, Senate, Presidents Emeriti H. Ian Macdonald, Harry W. Arthurs, Lorna R. Marsden and Mamdouh Shoukri.

Also present were representatives from York University’s Indigenous community, its senior leadership including vice-presidents, senior leadership and deans of York’s 11 Faculties, students, faculty and staff were present. In addition, members from the municipal and provincial government, senior leaders from 17 Canadian universities, Seneca College, and Universities Canada attended the installation ceremony.

The ceremony began with a traditional prayer for unity and a celebratory song delivered by Amy Desjarlais, Knowledge Keeper of the Wasauksing First Nation and Ojibway/Potowottomi Anishinawbe Nation. Representatives from Canada’s Universities, President Emeritus Mamdouh Shoukri (representing York’s Presidents Emeriti), Alumni, Students, Faculty, Staff and Indigenous leaders brought congratulatory greetings to the new president. (Visit the President’s Installation website to view the greetings and other content.)

The installation ceremony is part several celebratory events marking Lenton’s new presidency. On Tuesday, as part of the University’s Red & White Day celebrating University spirit, Lenton spoke at a Campus Alumni and Donor Breakfast.

She then attended a community reception for faculty, staff and students that was co-hosted by the Senate of York University and the Board of Governors. At the reception, Lenton announced the winner of the #YorkUMyVisionContest, which encouraged all current York University students to share their vision for the University’s future. The winner will have lunch with the president.

Above: Rhonda L. Lenton with #YorkUMyVision contest winner Jathusha Mahenthirarajan

From the visions submitted through social media channels using the hashtag #YorkUMyVision, Lenton announced that Jathusha Mahenthirarajan, a first-year student majoring in human rights and equity studies, had won the contest. Her winning vision focuses on creating a drop-in social incubator at York University so that students can apply course materials to solve pressing world issues.

Celebrations will conclude on Saturday, Oct. 21, when Lenton will host a special York Circle Lecture and Lunch.

To read the many greetings and letters of congratulations, and to view exclusive content, visit the President’s Installation website.