Tom Lee reminds Lassonde graduands to ‘stay thoughtful’

Honorary degree recipient Tom Lee

The Lassonde School of Engineering Spring Convocation on June 22 was commenced by honorary doctor of laws recipient, Chair of the Corporate Advisory Council at the Electrical and Computer Engineering Heads Association, and Adjunct Professor Tom Lee, who expressed pride for the graduands and their institution for shaping a more humanitarian engineering ethos.

Welcomed to the stage by Lassonde Dean Jane Goodyer, Lee was praised for his ingenuity and unwavering sense of ethics. “Today, we not only celebrate Dr. Lee’s accomplishments, but also the values he embodies, the same ones Lassonde holds very dear: entrepreneurship, the pursuit of new ideas, academic freedom, and a passionate desire to create a better world,” Goodyer said.

Honorary degree recipient Tom Lee and Chancellor Kathleen Taylor
Honorary degree recipient Tom Lee and Chancellor Kathleen Taylor

Having arrived in Canada in 1971, Lee’s family of six lived in a small, two-bedroom apartment and established roots just minutes away from the heart of York University’s Keele Campus.

“I’m a Downsview guy,” Lee explained as he reflected on what the community surrounding the Keele Campus means to him. “And it feels so good to be home again. And my roots in this neighbourhood makes this day much more special.”

Lee built a notable career after receiving his doctorate in mechanical engineering at the University of Waterloo, eventually being inducted into the Canadian Academy of Engineering and being named the Walter Booth Chair in Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship at McMaster University. A continuous thread throughout his many accomplishments is the passion Lee says his peers admired in him at various institutions, a trait which was inspired in him by Pierre Lassonde, whose legacy Lee sees carried on in Lassonde’s graduands.

Paying homage to Steve Jobs, Lee iterated on a famous quote from the late Apple founder’s own address at a Stanford University convocation.

“’Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.’ These words in so many ways capture the spirit of our digital age … We celebrated those who took decisive action, often without concern for immediate consequences. We’ll deal with that later. ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish,’” Lee remarked. “Today though, I want to suggest that we consider adding one more. Stay thoughtful. Stay hungry, stay foolish, stay thoughtful.

“About 10 years ago, I first met Pierre Lassonde and many of the founding leadership of the Lassonde school and they introduced me to a provocative new perspective on engineering education, and they called it renaissance engineering. I’m glad to see that these words and sentiments persist today here because renaissance engineering also had a lasting impact on me,” he continued. “It suggested that engineering could be a foundation for all sorts of creative and ambitious endeavours, and that the needs of people and communities need to directly connect to what you learn in class.”

Tom Lee
Tom Lee

Lee suggested that for many decades an ask-questions-later approach to engineering had given rise to some of the most impressive feats of human inventiveness but had simultaneously driven crises and disasters.

“Nuclear energy, pesticides, plastics, pain medications, refined fossil fuels and internal combustion engines are all examples of engineered technologies that had a great start … but now represent enormous planet-level challenges,” he said.

On the other hand, Lee also expressed his hope that the next generation of thoughtful engineers – to which the Lassonde graduands now belonged – would be best equipped to handle both yesterday’s and tomorrow’s challenges.

“Things are changing, and you have a lot to do with it. More and more. I find your increased awareness of societal and global challenges and your loud and critical voice on the mistakes of people my age, to be welcome and essential to remaining optimistic about tomorrow.

“Today, I hope you celebrate like never before. Maybe even get a little foolish. Go nuts. You deserve it,” Lee concluded. “And tomorrow, you’ll begin building a wonderfully interesting and rewarding career, whatever that may be for you. And I hope that once in a while you will pause and think of something wonderfully thoughtful to do as well, whatever that may be for you.”