Described as an extraordinary humanitarian and health care leader, Schulich alumnus and physician Dr. Narendra Singh received an honorary doctor of laws during the morning Spring Convocation ceremony held June 18.
The honorary degree was conferred before graduands in the Faculty of Health, including students belonging to the first cohort to graduate from York’s Global Health program.
“It is a marvelous synergy that someone with such an outstanding body of work in global health is here as we celebrate our first graduates of the global health program,” said York University Chancellor Greg Sorbara of Singh.
Singh, who has devoted his career as a physician to global pediatric and neonatal health care, recently retired as Chief of Staff at Humber River Hospital to direct his efforts full-time to Guyana Help the Kids, an initiative he founded in 2009 that has drastically reduced infant mortality rates.
“I’m receiving this honorary doctorate of laws, but I’m somewhat conflicted since my success … is the combined effort of many people, some in the audience today … and so I would like to share this degree with them,” said Singh.
Musing over how to inspire a generation in the age of advanced technology, with “everything at their fingertips,” Singh chose to focus on what he learned from a long life and career.
He spoke to graduands about the life lessons he learned on his own journey to success, and highlighted three main points: the importance of family, personal qualities for success, and the importance of giving back.
Two guarantees in life, he suggested, are that everyone will experience good times and bad times. He then asked the graudands “when adversity strikes, and it will strike, my question to you is who will be there?”
He spoke of his own support from his parents, and how after completing specialty medical training he was offered an exciting job in the United States, but took a less exciting opportunity closer to home in Ontario to be near his parents and two brothers.
Though his career could have taken a drastically different turn had he accepted the job in the U.S., he believes he still did well, and attributes his success to putting family over career.
“I will say to you unequivocally: your career will flourish if you’re happy and surrounded by loved ones like you are today,” he told graduands, urging those who doesn’t have the same fortune of nearby family to find and build their families.
“We are all connected and the stronger and healthier our relationships are, the more grounded, resilient and, ultimately, successful we can be,” he said.
He also spoke of personal qualities that drive success, including good interpersonal skills and humility, and shared a personal memory of his to highlight that.
He recalled as a child in Guyana, at age six or seven, being one of the lowest ranked students in the class. Remembering the support of his family and how he did initially struggle, he also recalled that with hard work, his grades began to improve.
“My point is that when you look at people who have done really well, finally, in their lives, their grades don’t necessarily explain all of it,” he said.
Singh also urged graduands to let their accomplishments speak for themselves.
“Consider team success, not personal success; sing the praises of others, not your own,” he said.
Giving back is also a driver toward success, said Singh, who runs a charity to save the lives of infants.
“Being successful also means helping others to achieve their success … so make sure that you leave room in your life for giving back,” Singh said.
And, while make a big contribution is important, Singh circled back to the sentiment that family is the stepping stone to a happy, fulfilling and successful life.
“Give first to your family with your time and attention. You only have one chance. Invest in your family, hone your skills and wait for the right time to do the big things,” he said.
In his address, Singh noted that he was, not too long ago, sitting among students when he recently graduated from the Schulich/Kellogg Executive MBA Program.
He commended the program, Dean Dezsö J. Horváth and faculty for making it the number one executive MBA program in Canada and noted the program’s global high ranking.
In addition to leading Guyana Help the Kids, Singh is also a consultant pediatric intensivist at Doctors Hospital of Renaissance in Texas. He has received numerous awards including the Meritorious Service Medal of Canada, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons Award “Prix de Excellence/Specialist of the Year” and the Professionalism Award from the Government of Guyana.