Honorary doctorate recipient Margot Franssen passes the torch to Generation Z

Margot Franssen
Margot, Sorbara, Lenton
Pictured, from left: Chancellor Greg Sorbara, Margot Franssen and President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton

The Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies’ graduating class heard words of encouragement and praise from honorary doctor of laws degree recipient and York University alumna Margot Franssen (BA ’79) during Fall Convocation ceremonies on Thursday, Oct. 17.

Rather than relying on her long list of personal, career and philanthropic successes to inspire the room full of promising young graduands, Franssen instead zeroed in on the unique qualities they possess as members of Generation Z. “They call you Generation Z because all your life you have been aiming for your zenith, a moral peak much higher than anyone has ever reached before,” she began. “And I for one trust that you will hold my generation’s feet to the fire to right a world that seems to be completely off its axis.”

The founder, former president and partner of the Body Shop Canada, now an advocate for women and girls, eloquently explained why this graduating class gives her hope for the future: “This generation is fierce. This generation is vocal. This generation wants out of our system and rightly so. They are taking on the mantle of powerful activists who demand their leaders defend the rights of others. And, if we are lucky, they will hold their strength like no generation before them.”

Franssen spoke of the youth of today’s unprecedented involvement in the social justice, environmental, economic and political issues plaguing our world, and how being born in the digital age has connected this generation in a new and exciting way, allowing for global movements with real impact, like last month’s Global Strike for Climate Justice.

She warned graduands to use their education and privilege mindfully. “Be vigilant in your principles,” she said. “Understand exactly who will benefit from your intellectual capital, your cash, your sweat equity. Carefully think through what you are willing to spend your moral capital on. Choose your work carefully.”

As an immigrant and the first in her family to go to university, Franssen said she once thought everyone in a position of power knew more than she did. “I’m still surprised and disappointed at age 67 that I meet world leaders and captains of industry who are not one wit smarter or better than me. In fact, many are fools,” she said. “They practise commerce without morality, science without humanity, politics without principle.”

The lesson from this, according to Franssen, is that the young people of today shouldn’t be afraid to make their voices heard.

“The world is more malleable than you think,” she said, “and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape. Don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table.”

Franssen closed her speech by handing the metaphorical torch over to the graduating class of future leaders that she has the utmost faith in: “I have been in a leadership position most of my life, but I am relieved to pass the reins over to you and only to you, because I am confident you will make this world better.”