By Alexander Huls, deputy editor, YFile
Honorary degree recipient Itah Sadu, a bestselling children’s author and more, offered inspiration to the first cohort of graduands from the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies at the Oct. 12 Fall Convocation ceremony at York University’s Keele Campus.
Addressing graduands at the beginning of the ceremony, President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton introduced Sadu by praising “her gifts to humanity contributing to a more diverse, equitable and inclusive world.”
Among those contributions have been running the bookstore A Different Book List in Toronto, specializing in literature from the African and Caribbean diaspora, as well as the Global South; organizing the Walk With Excellence, which sees graduating students from Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood share their achievements through a parade; serving as managing director of the Blackhurst Cultural Centre; and her involvement with the Emancipation Day “Underground Freedom Train” Ride.
Sadu’s accomplishments evoked a quote she shared with graduands from the late member of provincial parliament Rosemary Brown, the first African Canadian woman to become a member of a provincial legislature: “We must open the doors and we must see to it they remain open so that others can pass through,” Sadu recited.
She took a moment to credit York University for living up to Brown’s words, then encouraged graduands to do so as well. “I hope you will open multiple doors in the future and be door jams – and I’m even going to say door jammers – so that others can pass through,” Sadu said.
Before Sadu began her speech, Kathleen Taylor, York’s 14th chancellor, had praised graduands for their potential to do just that. “Your generation has shown immense strength and determination and continues to work towards positive change. You’re here today because you’ve proven that you have the drive to make the world a better place,” Taylor said. Sadu expanded on Taylor’s sentiments, encouraging students to seize their potential. “Graduates, when you wake up in the morning and history calls you, you text history right back and say, ‘I am coming there ASAP,’ ” Sadu said.
The presence of so many diverse people – students, faculty, staff, families – at Convocation, united in a shared experience, also represented to Sadu the very progress she wished for the graduands and the world. “We have come by car, by train, by taxi, plane and bus. Some of us have cycled and even walked,” she said. “However, we travelled with a common purpose to celebrate today’s graduates to bring joy and to arrive at this powerful destination. This reminds us that we can function in a world where different experiences, perspectives and points of view are to be valued. Therefore, if we work together with common interests, we can arrive at powerful destinations.”
Sadu encouraged graduands to be proactive in helping the world arrive at those destinations by being mindful of giving back. “When you see policies that are unfair, change them. That’s giving back. When you see an injustice and you speak up and out, that’s giving back. When you say a word or a simple act of kindness, that is given back. And know that giving back is altruistic and never, ever transactional,” she said. “Be the best door jammers you can be. And, in the words of the Barbados national anthem, continue to write your names on history’s page with expectations great. And when this happens, in the words of the philanthropist and singer Rihanna, you will shine bright like diamonds. This is your time to shine.”