The following is a message from York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton to the class of 2022:
It is my great honour to congratulate each and every one of you on having achieved this important milestone in your lives.
Many of you, like myself, were among the first in your families to attend university. Many of you have travelled far from your homes and support systems in order to be here, and many of you have faced untold social, economic, cultural and personal challenges throughout your academic journey, not the least of which being an unprecedented global health crisis.
But to all of our 2022 graduands, no matter your path: know that your presence at Convocation is a testament not only to your commitment to academic excellence but to your agility, resilience and perseverance.
And, as you join a community of more than 360,000 alumni living and working around the globe, know that you have earned the right to walk across this stage, to take your place among this illustrious group of leaders, and to move forward through your life with pride as a York University alum.
Higher education was once dedicated solely to the acquisition of knowledge. But over time, leading scholars began to appreciate the power of universities in challenging the status quo and reimagining the world as it could be.
York’s founding president, Murray Ross, was one of these visionaries. He had a different plan for York, one that focused on providing students with an interdisciplinary education that would contribute to their intellectual development and also to their understanding of the world.
The values he articulated continue to inform York’s vision today which is to provide a broad sociodemographic of students with access to a high-quality education at a research-intensive university committed to enhancing the well-being of the communities we serve.
We believe that each of you was attracted to York because of what we stand for as an institution of higher learning – and that during your time at York, you responded to the invitation to further your impact in your communities – through your scholarship, research, community involvement, activism and experiential education activities – now and in the future – by applying the knowledge and skills you have cultivated to solving some of the most complex global challenges the world is currently facing, from racism to inequality, climate change, war, and global health crises such as the pandemic.
And in an increasingly sophisticated information economy, where knowledge is subject to rapid obsolescence, where work is being increasingly automated, and the workforce is continually evolving, the skills you have learned will continue to serve you well, helping you adapt and thrive throughout your careers even in uncertain and volatile times.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is how connected we are to one another – how the actions of one individual or group can send a tidal wave of change across a community or around the world.
What we desire for ourselves – good health, peace, quality education, connections with others and the opportunity to pursue success and happiness however we define it – must be what we desire for all.
And so, it is increasingly critical for us to strengthen our connections – to one another, to our communities, to the world around us – and to support collaboration that transcends cultures and borders.
One excellent example of this type of transformative collaboration can be seen in York alumnus Jonathan Clodman, co-director of Vaccine Hunters Canada, a grassroots collective that harnessed the power of social media to help millions of Canadians source COVID-19 vaccines at the height of the pandemic, garnering praise and recognition from across the country, including from municipal and provincial leaders and even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. This type of collective commitment to the public good can also be seen in the Faculties we are celebrating.
I hope that all of you, as York alumni, will stay in touch with our community, and continue to build on the connections you have made here – with your professors, course directors, mentors, staff, administrators and fellow students – throughout your life.
In closing, I want to share with you three brief thoughts.
Learn from the past. It is okay to make mistakes but we want to try to minimize how many times we make the same mistake. We have a unique opportunity to reflect on all that we have learned throughout this pandemic and to apply those lessons in shaping our future.
That brings me to my second thought – which is the importance of planning for the future. Climate change alone highlights the significance of all of us working together to care for each other, the planet and the generations to come.
Finally, as important as it is to reflect on the past and prepare for the future, do not get so caught up with one and two that you fail to embrace the present. I encourage you all to celebrate this moment and all that you have accomplished to get here today.
I hope you will also draw on what Murray Ross referred to as the “awareness of the human spirit and its possibilities” to continue the work we have started here together to create a safer, healthier and more sustainable world.
I hope you will join me in recognizing your family, friends, staff, professors and everyone in our community who has supported you through your educational journeys.
I want to close today by thanking all of you for choosing York and for acting as ambassadors for this institution.
Congratulations. Bonne chance. Miigwech.