Toronto Mayor and Osgoode Hall Law School grad John Tory was the keynote speaker at McLaughlin College’s virtual First-Year Student Forum on Jan. 28.
York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton welcomed attendees, including keynote speaker Tory, and encouraged students to stay hopeful in a difficult year. “We look forward to hearing the advice you have for our students, that you wished you could have told yourself, when you began your journey at our Osgoode Hall Law School,” she said to Tory.
J.J. McMurtry, dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, introduced the mayor. “For more than 50 years, McLaughlin College has engaged in critical conversations about public policy as they relate to our place in society,” he said. “By engaging with each other in these conversations and by sharing experiences and opinions, we continue to nourish this goal even here tonight as we gather virtually.”
Tory gave an inspirational address to all the first-year students in attendance. He began by noting that it is unfortunate that students must begin their university studies online and miss out on the opportunity of attending their classes on their campus.
He urged first-year students to get involved with the extra-curricular activities that are available at their College, Faculty, and across the University. When he was attending Osgoode Hall Law School, he recalled that he was engaged in many extra-curricular activities including serving as the editor of the student newspaper and as president of the law school’s student council.
He emphasized that from his experience, all the friendships and the people that you meet during your university studies will stay with you for the rest of your life.
On choosing a career, he noted that some people pursue careers because of the perceived job status and salary they expect to be earning, but what is “most important is to choose a field that you are most passionate about.”
Reflecting on his own career, he pointed out that he has had five careers thus far: practicing lawyer, president of the Canadian Football League, CEO of a large company, radio talk show host, and mayor of a big city. He said that none of these careers were planned, except for being a lawyer. The other jobs came up because he thought they would be interesting and fun, but he would also learn from the experience.
Tory indicated that the pandemic has changed everyone’s lives, including his own. Like everyone else, he has been working from home rather than travelling across the city to attend meetings. He referred to the social and economic well-being of everyone in the city as being a priority, and expressed his concerns regarding the challenges of providing adequate well-paying jobs and affordable housing to all those who require it, as well as trying to address the economic disparities across the city.
Tory also noted he was looking forward to hearing from the students in attendance and wanted to reserve the bulk of his time to answer their questions. For this segment of the program, Professor Emeritus David Leyton-Brown, the former head and master of McLaughlin and Calumet Colleges, moderated by taking the questions submitted by the audience. He fielded more than 18 questions that ranged from Tory’s career, the city’s priorities, and combatting the pandemic, to the economy, affordable housing and public transit.
With respect to the pandemic, Tory said he believed things will slowly be brought back to normal but that this will occur gradually and in stages.
He also emphasized the importance of being involved in the community. “The education that I get that helps me be a better mayor is the education I get when I go to events and get to listen to people when they tell me their stories,” he said. “Even a social conversation that doesn’t have a big issue involved in it, you learn about people’s way of life, how they experience the city and what they value in their life, and so I think what really matters is that you have that very passionate and keen interest in your community and its well-being and a desire to bring about some kind of change for the better.”
Howard Brown, the president of Brown & Cohen Communications & Public Affairs, Inc., and a Fellow of the College, thanked the mayor for his address and for taking the time to answer questions posed by the students and other members of the audience. Brown met Tory in their early 20s when they were presidents of their respective youth wings of their political parties.
He then showed the students a newspaper clipping from the Toronto Star in 1975 with the headline “Backroom Babies” that featured Tory and himself. He pointed out that the issues that they were working on then are still relevant today. “When John Tory speaks out on an issue, people listen,” said Brown. He emphasized that Tory is the epitome of hard work and outstanding public service.
The McLaughlin College First-Year Student Forum concluded with the Head of McLaughlin College, Professor James C. Simeon, thanking Tory for generously sharing his wisdom and advice with students. He also promised to invite him back to McLaughlin College next year when they can all, hopefully, be able to meet in person for dinner as they typically do on these very special occasions.
View the full video recording of this special event on YouTube.