York alumnus Michael H. Tulloch, justice of the Ontario Court of Appeal was the keynote speaker at this year’s McLaughlin College Year-End Student Special Event on Thursday, March 25. The event, which was held over Zoom, also featured brief opening remarks from York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton and J.J. McMurtry, dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS), who also introduced Tulloch.
The title of Tulloch’s keynote address was “Be an Agent of Change.” He began his remarks by thanking Lenton for her leadership in upholding York University’s standing and reputation for academic excellence. Tulloch noted that he is a proud and loyal member of McLaughlin College. As an undergraduate student in economics and business, he explained, that he was a student of Professor George Doxey, who was the master of McLaughlin College at the time, and he was invited by him to be his research assistant and teaching assistant. After completing his undergraduate studies, Tulloch attended Osgoode Hall Law School, and during his studies he worked as a lecturer at McLaughlin College and became a residence don and tutor at Tatham Hall. He said that his time at McLaughlin College was pivotal in his life.
Tulloch said that he recognized the challenges of pursuing a university degree during the pandemic with classes being held online and with the lack of social interaction. He acknowledged that this past academic year has been both emotionally and mentally draining one. Nevertheless, he remarked, that students should take pride in their accomplishment of obtaining their academic degree and joining the more than 350,000 York University alumni from around the world. “Your degree has afforded you the opportunity to be a changemaker,” he said. “It will give you the power to impact the lives of others but with this power also comes responsibility.”
Reflecting on his life and education he indicated that he came from a humble family background in Jamaica, but his family believed that education was the way forward to a better life. His mother had to interrupt her education when they immigrated to Canada when he was still a child. But she returned to her studies to become a nurse while also working part-time and she achieved high honours and made the Dean’s list. His mother, he said, had set a wonderful example for him to follow. He also pointed out that Roy McMurtry, Chancellor Emeritus of York University, who was the Attorney General of the Province of Ontario and the Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Appeal, was a great mentor and friend. Tulloch with McMurtry, were among the founding members of the Second Chance Foundation, that gives students who get in trouble with the law an opportunity for a post-secondary education through offering them scholarships. He said that McMurtry was very influential in his life, along with Sheldon Levy, former vice-president of York University and the president emeritus of Ryerson University. Levy was Tulloch’s mathematics professor at York University.
Tulloch said that he learned from all these mentors and friends. “I am the living embodiment of my dream. My parents, teachers, and friends altered the trajectory of my life,” he observed. He urged students to follow the example and advice and guidance of their parents, teachers, and friends to fulfill their own dreams.
“We are all very fortunate to be living in a country that values and upholds the rule of law. But we must also come to grips with systemic racism that permeates all societies,” said Tulloch. These are evident in the social-economic disparities that exist in society, he observed. “We must eliminate the disparities that plague Canadian society,” he stated, adding that “we must recognize that we are tied together as one community.”
He stressed that “we need to end the rampant racism and the pernicious anti-Black racism that exists in our present-day society.” Tulloch provided numerous examples of blatant racist incidents that have taken place across the country and the significant rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. Quoting Martin Luther King Jr’s famous statement that, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Racist slurs cannot be tolerated, said Tulloch.
“We must bear witness to injustices, eradicate hate, and all forms of oppression,” he said. Apathy and indifference, he argued, allowed evil to triumph. He concluded his remarks by noting that “education is the great equalizer.” Quoting Nelson Mandela, he stated, “Education is the powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” He went on to tell the students that that they had received a world-class education and it is now time for them to make an impact and to leave a legacy by making this a better world for everyone.
The evening’s program ended with a video recording of the McLaughlin College Community Choir’s rendition of “My Shot,” from the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton: An American Musical. (To view the video, see https://youtu.be/ONtmW3Z7H7o.)
Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Obiora Okafor, York Research Chair in International and Transnational Legal Studies, moderated the Q-and-A portion of the evening event. LA&PS Professor Lorne Foster, director of the Institute of Social Research at York University, presented the summary comments and thanked Tulloch for his address. McLaughlin College Council President Destiny McDonald, read York University’s Land Acknowledgement at the start of the program.
The full video of the Year-End Student Special Event is posted on the McLaughlin College website at https://mclaughlin.laps.yorku.ca/events/mclaughlin-lunch-talks-videos.