‘We must never give up,’ Jane Goodall tells York community

Jane Goodall at podium BANNER

On April 9, at a special ceremony to award Jane Goodall with an honorary degree, the renowned primatologist and anthropologist shared stories from her life and career with attendees. She also shared why – despite the immense challenges the natural world faces at the expense of climate change – she has hope for the future.

“I still don’t really understand what’s happened to me,” she told the York audience about a career that has led her to become one of the world’s most famous anthropologists and primatologists. Nonetheless, she made an attempt to help those in attendance understand how she became the world-renowned figure she is today from – what she considers – a simple beginning.

“I was born loving animals,” Goodall explained, recounting how as a young child she would climb a tree and watch birds, squirrels, spiders and other creatures. If she couldn’t observe the magic of the natural world directly, she’d read about it indirectly through fantasy-tinged books like Tarzan of the Apes and The Story of Doctor Dolittle. With both novels’ ties to Africa, a seed was planted early for Goodall: she wanted to see the continent herself.

President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton with Jane Goodall
President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton with Jane Goodall.

Goodall recounted how many questioned the logic of that newfound desire to travel to Africa and – perhaps – live with the wild animals like Tarzan and write books about them. “Everybody laughed at me,” Goodall said.

Throughout her address, she returned to the importance of the people most important to her journey, and among them was her mother who – even when she was young – never laughed at Goodall’s interest in animals. Once, when Goodall was very young, her mother found she had brought a handful of earthworms to bed. “Jane, you’re looking at them so earnestly, as if you’re monitoring how they’re walking without legs,” she noted. Then, very quietly, she nudged: “We better take them back to the garden.”

Goodall received a similar degree of gentle motherly guidance as she considered pursuing her interest in animals in Africa. “If you really want to do something like this, then you have to work really hard, take advantage of every opportunity, and if you don’t give up, hopefully you’ll find a way,” Goodall recalls her mother saying. “That’s the message I take around the world, particularly to young people, particularly to girls in disadvantaged communities.”

Goodall certainly took that message with her at the time, and did find her way to Africa, becoming a secretary to renowned British paleontologist Louis Leakey in Kenya. As Leakey began seeing Goodall interacting with local animals, he saw something in her. “He apparently decided that I was the person he’d been looking for to be the first to study chimpanzees in the wild,” Goodall said.

So, she did.

For a while, everything that would happen next – the exposure and support she received through National Geographic, the leadership she would demonstrate in guiding science to completely reconsider chimpanzee behaviour and more – would have seemed unlikely to Goodall when she began her immersive study.

The first few weeks were difficult. “For four or five months, the chimps took one look at me and vanished into the forest,” she recalled. She felt like she was making no progress. Goodall’s mother, who had volunteered to come with her to Tanzania, saw it differently, pointing to how in that limited time Goodall had already learned much about the chimpanzees: what they ate, how they communicated and what their communal dynamics were. “She said, ‘You’re learning more than you think,’” Goodall recalls of her mother.

Soon after there also came a turning point in the form of a chimpanzee she would come to call David Gray Beard. “He began to lose his fears [of me] before the others,” she said, which led to her getting close enough to him to observe an – at the time – revolutionary insight: chimpanzees could make and use tools. “That really changed everything,” Goodall said.

Jane Goodall with a special friend
Goodall with a special friend.

In time, Leakey wanted her work to be recognized by the scientific community, elements of which rejected her. Notably, they questioned the empathetic connection Goodall formed with the apes – something she, to this day, is known and beloved for. “’You cannot have empathy with animals and be a good scientist. You have got to be objective. You cannot be objective if you have empathy,’” she recalled being told.

That revolutionary empathy has been a landmark of not just Goodall’s work with apes, but advocacy for the natural world. That was something that especially flourished when she returned to Tanzania to start a research station after her first immersive study among the chimpanzees.

“I got to understand the ecosystem of the forest,” she said. “I see it as like a tapestry. And every time a species disappears from that ecosystem, you pull that thread from a tapestry. And if you pull in other threads, that ecosystem will collapse.”

She began to wonder what would happen if climate change were allowed to run unabated, or if humans don’t do something to control biodiversity loss. She could see first hand the impact poverty has on the environment, “because when people are poor, out in the rural areas, they’re destroying the environment simply to survive.” And the young people she would encounter were similarly concerned with the future. “Young people were losing hope. They were angry,” she said.

Addressing the students in the audience, Goodall admitted the old had have been compromising the future of the young for generations. However, Goodall said there is much that gives her hope. “If we get together, we can start to slow down climate change,” she said. She’s encouraged by many people throughout the world wanting to work to solve the challenges the Earth currently faces. “I’m sure there are students even right here working to try and solve particular problems,” she added.

“There is always hope,” she said. “We must never give up.”

Call for nominations: 2024 Honorific Professorships

Award stock image banner from pexels

The Senate Committee on Awards is now accepting nominations for University Professorships and Distinguished Research Professorships.

University Professorships are conferred upon long-serving, tenured faculty members who have demonstrated a commitment to participation in University life and/or contribution to the University as a community, as well as appropriate levels of scholarship and teaching success. 

The Distinguished Research Professorship is awarded to a member of the faculty who has made outstanding contributions to the University through research. The Distinguished Research Professor will have demonstrated scholarly achievement by sustained publication or other recognized and accepted demonstrations of sustained authoritative contributions to scholarship.

Nominations may be made by all tenured faculty members, who shall provide a complete nomination file, including the nominee’s CV and a detailed letter of nomination explaining how the candidate’s achievements conform to the general criteria, along with three letters of support from those in a position to comment on the nominee’s achievements and contributions.

Additional details about the criteria and nomination procedures are set out in the Senate Policy on Honorific Professorships.  Nominations for Honorific Professorships should be submitted by Friday, March 1 at 4:30 p.m. Nominations may be submitted via the Distinguished Research Professor Mach Form or the University Professor Mach Form available on the Awards web page, or by sending the PDF Form to Michelle Roseman at rosemanm@yorku.ca.

President congratulates Class of 2023 at Fall Convocation

File photo Convocation students

La version française suit la version anglaise. 

The following is President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton’s address at Fall 2023 Convocation:

To our graduates from the Class of 2023 – my warmest congratulations to you all!

Having the privilege to go to university and having access to education is still not something that everyone around the world can assume.

Because of that, we are very much looking to all of you, as those who have had access to a high-quality education and are here today graduating, to think about the future leadership that is needed in the country and in the world.

Arriving at this moment was no easy feat. Many of you have faced significant obstacles, including the pursuit of your studies during a global pandemic. Many of you have travelled from afar – leaving behind all that is familiar to come to a new city, a new province or a new country and, in some cases, to study in a new language. And many of you have balanced course work and university activities with the priorities and demands of your families, your careers and personal lives.

Today is a day for celebration, and you should all absolutely take some time to celebrate your accomplishment. But it is also a day for reflection.

You are graduating at a time of great uncertainty and volatility – the Hamas attack on civilians in Israel and the escalating conflict in Gaza are profoundly impacting not only Israelis and Palestinians in the region but many community members here at York and elsewhere; the war in Ukraine, global conflicts and geopolitical tensions; climate change; health pandemics; and systemic inequalities are colliding and magnifying global problems.

Left ignored, this state of polycrisis has steep repercussions for us all – threatening lives and the planet; limiting access to education, housing, health care, food and water; and challenging fundamental human rights, especially for women, people with disabilities, Indigenous and racialized people, people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and displaced populations.

It might be expected that you would feel overwhelmed in such circumstances – certainly no one person, institution or country can solve these challenges alone. It is therefore imperative that we ask ourselves, how do we function in such a society? And to contemplate how we ensure we have the knowledge and the talent we need for the future. In this regard, universities have never been more important.

York’s vision is to provide a broad demographic of students with access to a high-quality education at a research-intensive university committed to the well-being of the communities that we serve. Students are attracted to York because they want to make a difference. We have substantiated that claim with a Social and Economic Impact Survey of our students.

Irrespective of what you do next – and in whatever field – we have tried to ensure that you have the skills needed to support your personal success and to contribute to the broader well-being of the world.

There is a great deal that has been written about negotiating in an environment characterized by VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. I want to focus on overcoming adversity – regardless of whether it is individual or global in scale. Overcoming adversity requires resilience and perseverance, but at the same time, we must resist intransigence. We must seek compromise between seemingly intractable positions. And most importantly, we must recognize the humanity in our opponents.

During your time at York, you have had access to a diverse community, perhaps from other areas of the world; you have had global learning experiences, work-integrated learning, technology-enhanced learning; hopefully you have made new friends and new connections that you will have for your lifetime.

I appeal to you all to lean into those relationships – to demonstrate the leadership of understanding and tolerance needed to illuminate the path forward, especially in difficult times. The Faculties that we are celebrating, and our honorary doctorate recipients, have all demonstrated that type of leadership, creating the conditions that support respectful dialogue and contributing to a more sustainable, inclusive and equitable world.

Before I conclude my remarks, let’s take a moment to acknowledge your families, friends, professors, course directors, staff and all those who have been instrumental in helping you get here today.

Thank you all for choosing York. We are counting on you and very much look forward to seeing what you do next.

Best wishes. Bonne chance. Miigwech!

La présidente félicite la cohorte de 2023 lors de la cérémonie de remise des diplômes d’automne

Voici le discours de la présidente et vice-chancelière Rhonda Lenton lors de la cérémonie de remise des diplômes d’automne 2023 :

J’adresse mes plus chaleureuses félicitations à nos diplômés de la promotion 2023.

Avoir le privilège d’aller à l’université et d’avoir accès à l’éducation n’est pas encore à la portée de tout le monde à l’échelle planétaire.

C’est pourquoi nous comptons sur vous, qui avez eu accès à une éducation de qualité et qui obtenez aujourd’hui votre diplôme, pour réfléchir au leadership dont le pays et le monde vont avoir besoin.

Arriver jusqu’ici n’a pas été une mince affaire. Beaucoup d’entre vous ont dû franchir des obstacles majeurs comme la poursuite d’études pendant une pandémie mondiale. Beaucoup d’entre vous sont venus de loin, abandonnant tout ce qui leur était familier pour s’installer dans une nouvelle ville, une nouvelle province ou un nouveau pays, et dans certains cas, pour étudier dans une nouvelle langue. Beaucoup d’entre vous ont dû concilier les cours et les activités universitaires avec les priorités et les exigences de votre vie familiale, de votre carrière et de votre vie personnelle.

Aujourd’hui est un jour de fête, alors j’espère que vous prendrez le temps de célébrer vos succès. Mais c’est aussi un jour de réflexion.

Vous obtenez votre diplôme à une époque de grande incertitude et volatilité : l’attaque du Hamas contre des civils en Israël et l’escalade du conflit à Gaza ont un impact profond non seulement sur les Israéliens et les Palestiniens de la région, mais aussi sur de nombreux membres de la communauté à York et ailleurs; la guerre en Ukraine, les conflits et les tensions géopolitiques dans le monde; les changements climatiques; les pandémies et les inégalités systémiques se conjuguent et amplifient les problèmes mondiaux.

Si l’on n’y prête pas attention, cette situation de polycrise a des répercussions graves pour chacun et chacune d’entre nous : elle menace la planète et les vies, limite l’accès à l’éducation, au logement, aux soins de santé, à la nourriture et à l’eau; elle remet aussi en question les droits fondamentaux, en particulier ceux des femmes, des personnes en situation de handicap, des populations autochtones et racisées, des personnes issues de milieux socio-économiques défavorisés et des peuples déplacés.

Il est normal de se sentir dépassé dans de telles circonstances : il est certain qu’aucune personne, aucun pays, aucune institution ne peut relever ces défis sans aide. Il est donc impératif de réfléchir à notre fonctionnement dans une telle société et d’envisager les talents nécessaires pour produire le type de leaders qu’il nous faut pour demain. À cet égard, les universités jouent un rôle plus important que jamais.

L’Université York se donne pour mandat d’offrir à sa communauté étudiante issue d’un vaste éventail démographique un accès à une formation de grande qualité au sein d’une université axée sur la recherche et le bien-être des communautés qu’elle sert. Un des grands attraits de York auprès de la population étudiante est la possibilité de faire changer les choses. Cette affirmation s’appuie sur les résultats d’un sondage sur l’incidence sociale et économique de notre population étudiante.

Quels que soient votre domaine d’étude et votre future carrière, nous faisons tout notre possible pour que vous disposiez des compétences nécessaires afin de réussir sur le plan personnel et de contribuer au bien-être général.

La négociation dans un environnement caractérisé par la volatilité, l’incertitude, la complexité et l’ambiguïté a fait couler beaucoup d’encre. Je souhaite me concentrer sur la manière de surmonter l’adversité, qu’elle soit individuelle ou mondiale. Pour ce faire, il faut déployer de la résilience et de la persévérance tout en résistant à l’intransigeance. Nous devons chercher des compromis entre des positions apparemment inconciliables. Et surtout, nous devons reconnaître l’humanité de nos adversaires.

Pendant votre séjour à York, vous avez eu accès à une communauté diversifiée, peut-être originaire d’autres régions du monde; vous avez vécu des expériences d’apprentissage global, d’apprentissage intégré au travail, d’apprentissage amélioré par les technologies; et vous avez fait, je l’espère, de nouvelles connaissances et relations durables.

Je vous invite à mettre à profit ces relations, à exercer le leadership de la compréhension et de la tolérance nécessaires pour éclairer la voie à suivre, surtout dans les moments difficiles. Ce type de leadership, nous le retrouvons dans les facultés que nous célébrons aujourd’hui et chez les lauréats et lauréates de nos doctorats honorifiques qui contribuent à un monde plus durable, plus inclusif et plus équitable pour les générations à venir.

Avant de conclure, prenons le temps de reconnaître vos familles, vos amis, vos professeurs, vos chargés de cours, le personnel et toutes les personnes qui vous ont aidés à en arriver là.

J’aimerais terminer en vous remerciant d’avoir choisi York. Nous comptons sur vous et nous avons hâte de voir ce que l’avenir vous réserve!

Best wishes. Bonne chance. Miigwech!

In pictures: York’s Convocation celebrates Class of 2023


Fall Convocation for York University’s Class of 2023 ran from Oct. 11 to 20 and featured six ceremonies on the Keele Campus.

At this year’s Fall Convocation, graduands from 10 York Faculties received their degrees during ceremonies overseen by the chancellor of York University, Kathleen Taylor.

View photos from the Fall Class of 2023 ceremonies below:

Fall Convocation 2023

Seek opportunities to make a difference, Andromache Karakatsanis tells grads

Andromache Karakatsanis

By Lindsay MacAdam, communications officer, YFile

After receiving her honorary degree at an Oct. 13 Fall Convocation ceremony for graduands from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, Andromache Karakatsanis (LLB ’80), herself an Osgoode alumna as well as Canada’s longest-serving Supreme Court justice, shared her inspirational story and words of wisdom with the crowd.

Chancellor Kathleen Taylor (left), Justice Andromache Karakatsanis (middle) and President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton (right) during an Oct. 13 Fall Convocation ceremony.

Born and raised in Toronto, Justice Karakatsanis is the child of Greek immigrants, whom she credits for her dedication and work ethic.

After receiving a bachelor of arts in English literature from the University of Toronto, Karakatsanis went on to earn her bachelor of laws from Osgoode. There, she met her husband and had the opportunity to work at Parkdale Community Legal Services, which she reflects on fondly as one of the most satisfying experiences of her legal education.

“As a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School, this is a special homecoming,” Karakatsanis said in her opening remarks. “I feel that life has come full circle, returning to York University for Convocation after a journey of decades that have been enriched by the education, the skill and the values I learned here on this campus.”

Called to the Ontario bar in 1982, Karakatsanis began her legal career practising criminal, civil and family law before shifting her focus to the public service in 1987. As the first woman to lead the Liquor Licence Board of Ontario, she served as Chair and chief executive officer until 1995, followed by a stint as assistant deputy attorney general of Ontario and secretary for Native Affairs. Karakatsanis then served as the province’s secretary of the cabinet and clerk of the executive council beginning in 2000, before becoming a judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in 2010 and being appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada only one year later.

“Put simply, Justice Karakatsanis is everywhere when it comes to Canada’s justice landscape,” said Osgoode Dean Trevor Farrow after his glowing introduction. “In 2002, the Law Society of Ontario presented Justice Karakatsanis with an honorary LLD in recognition of her long-standing and tireless service to justice in Canada. So, while we may not be the first to present her with an honorary degree, I think we are certainly the most proud.”

Karakatsanis began her speech by reflecting on her 97-year-old mother’s story of hardship and sacrifice, spending her youth in a war-ravaged country. After losing her father, she bravely left for Canada alone with nothing but hope for a better future. Following her arrival, she met her future husband – another young, Greek immigrant – and together they opened a restaurant and raised three children with lives full of all the opportunity they didn’t have.

“In another time and place, this woman would have risen to the top of any profession she wanted,” said Karakatsanis of her mother, who sat proudly in the Convocation audience. “But it was because of her sacrifice and her example that decades later she would watch her daughter sworn in as a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.”

Karakatsanis acknowledged that there are very few countries in the world where the first-generation child of immigrants can become a judge of the country’s highest court, and praised Canada as a “generous and pluralist model for the world.”

“We may not look, speak or pray alike,” she said, “but for the most part we have learned to live together in harmony.”

She then turned her attention to the injustices that are ever-present, and the responsibility that comes with embarking on a legal career.

“We live in a world where vulnerable people must fight to have their humanity recognized, where fear and prejudice often triumph over compassion and kindness, and where justice sometimes is an elusive goal rather than a secured outcome,” said Karakatsanis.

The law, she continued, has undoubtedly played a role in the many historical failures of humanity. “The Holocaust was legal under German law, as was the Jim Crow system in the United States, apartheid in South Africa and the Chinese Head Tax here in Canada,” she said. “They are not relics of the distant past, nor are they inconceivable in the present.”

She emphasized that the lessons of the past should serve as reminders not to take the future for granted: “The values and freedoms and opportunities we hold so dear were fought for with sacrifice and bravery. And just as they were won, they can be lost.”

In her final words to Osgoode’s graduating class, Karakatsanis encouraged graduands beginning their own journeys in the legal profession to seek out opportunities to make a difference.

“As we celebrate our personal triumphs, and honour the people and places that have made them possible, today is also a moment to reflect on what you can do to shape the future, to protect democracy, to build equality, to achieve reconciliation,” said Karakatsanis. “Don’t forget that the values by which you choose to live your life are just as important as any job you will undertake. Those values are how we will ensure that generations to come can stand where we stand today.”

Nnimmo Bassey calls for graduands to ‘restore hope in our time’

nnimmo bassey

By Alexander Huls, deputy editor, YFile

On Oct. 13, at the Fall Convocation ceremony for York University’s Faculty of Education, Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change, Glendon College, Lassonde School of Engineering and the Faclulty of Science, environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey shared his life story and words of encouragement with graduands.

During her opening remarks, Vice-Chancellor and President Rhonda Lenton urged graduands to consider a critical question as they move forward in their lives and careers. “It’s … imperative that we ask ourselves, ‘How do we function in … society?'” Lenton would go on to introduce Bassey as an example of someone who has been guided by that question for decades, praising him as “a dedicated advocate for the environment … whose gift to future generations is contributing to a more sustainable world.”

During his address to graduands, Bassey recounted his journey to becoming an advocate, driven by the mission to leave society with a more sustainable future. Born in Nigeria, he spoke of growing up during the Nigerian-Biafran war, a time he described as “disruptive and traumatic,” leading him to be exposed to human rights abuses, hunger, disease and more. Those experiences, as well as living under the oppression of a series of military authoritarian dictatorships, led Bassey to develop a desire to change the world around him. “As a young adult, I could not escape being a part of the human rights and anti-dictatorship movement,” he said.

Kathleen Taylor, Nnimmo Bassey, Rhonda Lenton
Chancellor Kathleen Taylor (left), Nnimmo Bassey (middle) and President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton (right) during an Oct. 13 Fall Convocation ceremony.

Inspired over time by anti-colonial leaders throughout the Global South, he came to adopt a cause. He felt that protesting dictatorships was not the zenith of standing against injustice, but rather protesting something else he saw at work under the radar.

“The wheels of oppression at home were crude oil and extractivism activities. Capital trumped concerns for the health of Mother Earth and her children … and complaints against the destruction of the ecosystems and livelihoods were met with brute force while communities were crushed,” he said. “The judicial models and assault on communities were the red lines that dictatorships crossed, and that set me on a lifelong journey of standing for environmental rights as the key basis for the enjoyment of the right to life.”

Over the course of his career, Bassey has become one of Africa’s leading advocates and campaigners for the environment and human rights. He founded Nigeria’s first environmental rights organization in the early 1990s, proceeding to inspire activists to stand up against the malpractices of multinational corporations, which eventually led to the formation of Oil Watch International in 1996, a network resisting fossil fuel expansion in the Global South. Later, he founded the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, an environmental justice organization.

He has also received several accolades, including the distinguished Right Livelihood Award, the Rafto Prize and he was named one of Time magazine’s Heroes of the Environment in 2009.

Despite a lifetime of accomplishments, Bassey spoke of the vital work still left at this critical moment for his work and the world. “It is clear we cannot afford linear growth on a finite planet,” he said. “While record temperatures, wildfires, floods and other stressors raged across the world, leaders are engrossed in xenophobic nationalism, building barriers against climate refugees, and promoting fictional, false and risky climate solutions.”

Despite the challenges, he expressed hope: “The milestones in my journey and the successes in the midst of continual battles have come by the resilience of the peoples and communities. We see expanding movements, readiness of communities to certify conveniences today for the sake of building a safe future for those yet unborn. I have seen the power of traditional wisdom and cultural production in building hope and strengthening alliances against oppression.”

Bassey extended that hope to graduands, urging them to action. “This is a time to stand together to demand justice in all circumstances, to call for an end to genocide, to build solidarity, and not walls, and to restore hope in our time.”

Itah Sadu spurs graduands to ‘shine bright’


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.

Kathleen Taylor, Itah Sadu, Rhonda Lenton
Pictured, from left to right: Chancellor Kathleen Taylor, Itah Sadu and PResident and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton.

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.”

Wes Hall urges grads to ‘do what others won’t dare to do’

Wes Hall during Fall Convocation

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, editor, YFile

Before crossing the stage to receive their diplomas, the second cohort of graduands from York University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) were greeted with words of encouragement from honourary degree recipient Wes Hall during an Oct. 12 Fall Convocation ceremony.

A businessman, social justice advocate and philanthropist – and celebrity investor on the Canadian reality TV show “Dragons’ Den” – Hall was introduced by LA&PS Dean J.J. McMurtry as having an inspirational story of resilience and tenacity.

“Faced with many barriers to success, Mr. Hall found himself locked out of many boardrooms, inspiring him to create his own,” said McMurtry, noting that Hall was listed as number 18 on The Power List of influential Canadians in Maclean’s.

Chancellor Kathleen Taylor, Wes Hall and President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton
Chancellor Kathleen Taylor (left), Wes Hall (middle) and President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton (right) during an Oct. 12 Fall Convocation ceremony.

Born and raised in a tin shack in rural Jamaica by his grandmother who worked at a plantation, Hall was one of 14 kids and shared with graduands and their guests that he never thought his life would be anything but that. At 18 months old, he and two of his siblings – one four years old and the other six months old – were abandoned by their mother in that shack with nothing but a pot of porridge on the stove.

“She never came back,” recalled Hall. “Days later a neighbour heard us crying … and came to check on us and realized we were by ourselves. She went to the plantation where my grandmother was working … and said, ‘Your grandkids are abandoned in a shack.’ “

It was then his grandmother went to collect them and bring them back with her to raise alongside the seven other grandkids already in her care, in addition to her own special needs daughter. After completing primary school, he and his siblings all had “one choice” – to work at the plantation because there was no money to pay for school beyond that.

“I was saved because my dad, who left when I was one year old from Jamaica to make a better life for himself in Canada, rescued me from that life. I came to Canada Sept. 27, 1985. I was 16 years old. That was 38 years ago that I came here. And people say that you can’t change things overnight.”

Access to free education in Canada, he said, completely changed his life. “I am humbled and honoured to accept this prestigious institution’s honorary doctor of laws. The future wasn’t meant for me that I have today. And I thank all the people that paved the way for me to be here today. I am forever grateful and will continue to work hard to pay back that debt of gratitude that I owe to them,” he said, noting his grandmother as a source of inspiration.

However, it wasn’t always easy. Having to overcome society’s labels and discrimination was part of the uphill climb, and is a barrier he works to create awareness around through social justice efforts. Defined as underserved, underpriveledged or underrepresented imprisons a person’s potential, he said, and can make those labelled feel they don’t belong.

“Several of you are here today despite being labeled underserved, underrepresented, underprivileged – you fought hard and you ought to be commended for that,” he said, urging those graduands to enter the workforce and approach it like a running back in football: if you fumble and fall down, get right back up and find the “positive blockers” around you.

Hall started his own career in the mailroom of a law firm on Bay Street in Toronto – and after being educated at George Brown College as a law clerk, is now a successful businessman, entrepreneur, the founder of the BlackNorth Initiative – which works to combat racism in business – and is an author, with the publication of his autobiography No Bootstraps When You’re Barefoot.

And to those with privilege, he urged them to change the world by using their privilege.

“Many of you are graduating with big dreams. The beauty of dreaming is that we add no restrictions when we dream. We dream as if ‘anything’ is possible,” he said. “Remember, you are all starting from the same place, right here, and it’s up to you to create a just and fair world. Do not relax in your privilege. When you see injustice, you must act decisively. When you see inequality, you must eradicate it. You must never become complacent or complicit.”

With his parting words, Hall shared his formula for success: have a curious mind, work hard and smart and be a changemaker. Don’t take “no” for an answer, and, when you are knocked down, get right back up.

“See the opportunities others do not see. Do what others don’t dare to do,” he said. “Congratulations again – and now go change the world.”

President Lenton addresses challenges and priorities for York in 2023-24

Arial view of Kaneff

York University President & Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton addressed the September 28 Senate meeting to share York’s priorities for the 2023-24 year ahead, addressing the budgetary and enrolment challenges within the current, volatile post-secondary education sector. Read President Lenton’s full address here.

Auditor General’s Report

In Fall 2022, York University was selected among others by the Office of the Auditor General Ontario for a value-for-money audit of York’s 2022-23 operations to examine and ensure York’s fiscal sustainability. The president indicated that a draft report with recommendations will be shared by the Auditor General’s office expected in late October. The next phase of the audit involves tabling the report to the Ontario Legislature in late November or early December.

Fall Convocation

The president announced the honorary doctorate recipients who will have their degrees conferred at the 2023 Fall Convocation. Learn more about the recipients.

The University Academic Plan and Looking Ahead to 2023-24

At Senate, the president reviewed the University’s recent enrolment and budget performance, the factors that have accumulated to create additional pressures in the current three-year rolling budget, and the impact of anticipated deficits on the University’s performance against financial metrics set by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities.

“We are one of the fastest rising universities in Canada and we have accomplished a great deal,” said President Lenton. “Our goals are not for the benefit of any one faculty or campus. York is a multi-campus university and our success hinges on our ability to continue to work together to provide our students with the very best.”

Lenton identified the projects and initiatives for the year ahead that will play an important role in advancing the University’s academic plan and meeting York’s vision to provide a broad demographic of students with access to a high-quality education at a research-intensive university committed to the well-being of the communities we serve.

Nominate a candidate for honorary degree at York

Dr. Denis Mukwege with York University President Rhonda Lenton and Chancellor Kathleen Taylor

The Senate Sub-Committee on Honorary Degrees and Ceremonials encourages members of the York University community to submit nominations for honorary degrees.

The awarding of honorary degrees is an important feature of Convocation at York University. By recognizing individuals whose achievements represent the values York cherishes, whose benefactions have strengthened the community and the institution, and whose public lives are deemed worthy of emulation, the act of awarding honorary degrees enriches Convocation for our graduands and guests.

A candidate for an honorary degree must meet one or more of the following general criteria:

  1. has eminence in their field;
  2. has demonstrated service to humankind, Canada, Ontario, York University or a particular community in a significant manner;
  3. has provided a significant benefaction to the University; and/or
  4. is someone whose public contributions to society are worthy of emulation.

To nominate a candidate, complete a nomination form and submit it along with two letters of support. The material is treated as confidential and should not be disclosed to the nominee.

Detailed guidelines on nomination requirements, process and answers to frequently asked questions can be found on the website. Questions about the requirements or process should be directed to Pamela Persaud at ppersaud@yorku.ca or Elaine MacRae at emacrae@yorku.ca. For reference, a list of honorary degree recipients is available on the website.

Completed nomination packages may be submitted electronically to ppersaud@yorku.ca or emacrae@yorku.ca.