Convocation 2014: ‘Spread optimism rather than cynicism’
At spring convocation on June 9, 10 and 11, Concordia’s president Alan Shepard joined honorands and graduates in offering his best wishes to the class of 2014.
“We prepare a diverse group of students for a global world that loves our graduates’ can-do attitude: your brilliance, your entrepreneurial energy, your creativity and your ambition to make the world a better place,” he said.
Cameron H. Tisshaw, one of the university’s eight valedictorians, told his fellow graduates that while their hard-earned education comes with new responsibilities, he’s confident they are ready to face the challenges ahead.
“We will grow. We will thrive. We will extend Concordia’s values of harmony, tolerance and intellectual rigour,” Tisshaw said. “We will become the Concordia diaspora that spreads around the entire globe.”
Valedictorian Katerina Fragos commended her fellow students for making the most of their time at Concordia.
“We must never stop taking on new projects, exposing ourselves to new environments and trying new things," she said. "We will never have achieved it all — there is always more to learn.”
Eight new honorands also provided sage advice culled from their distinguished careers. The ceremonies at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier in Place des Arts were divided by faculty.
Stuart Mclean, host of CBC Radio’s The Vinyl Café, asked graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Science not to focus on all that’s wrong with society, but instead to remember what’s working and to contribute to it as much as they can.
“Your choice is how you will accept the responsibility of citizenship,” Mclean said. “Do it joyfully. Spread optimism rather than cynicism; act with the understanding that we are all in this together.”
While addressing graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Science, including the inaugural cohort from Concordia’s new First Peoples Studies program, political columnist Chantal Hébert highlighted the fact that the former students were in Montreal at a tumultuous time in Quebec’s political and social history.
Controversies like the debate surrounding the proposed Quebec Charter of Values underlined the importance of strong citizenship in a democratic society, she said.
“When politicians are forced to debate these issues, we are able to answer in kind and come to decisions and to vote, and that is what democracy is about. I hope it encourages you to ask more of your politicians, and what I think you should ask more of your politicians to do is to ask more of you.”
In his address to the Faculty of Arts and Science, neuroscientist Bryan Kolb recalled the winding road his own studies took before he found his career path.
There was no master plan, Kolb said. He simply chased interesting leads to see what he could discover.
"You'll have your own curiosities to follow. Your task is to identify them, to recognize those opportunities and keep asking questions. Because questions are the root of knowledge, the keys for your own success and the success of Canada.”
Louis R. Chênevert, chairman and CEO of United Technologies Corporation, reminded graduates of the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science to step outside their comfort zone, to learn to connect with people and to remember those who contributed to their success.
After remarking that he will soon embark on his 50th business trip to China, Chênevert also pointed out the value of international experience in today’s global economy.
“Those who are able to bridge cultural gaps and connect with people from other geographies will continue to be in great demand.”
Gregg Saretsky, president and CEO of WestJet, had a straightforward message for graduates of the John Molson School of Business: pursue your passion.
“I’m convinced that the thing that has kept me going and excelling is [that] I love what I do,” he said.
“You’ve got to find what you love … The only way you can be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
Chantal Pontbriand, a noted art critic and curator, encouraged graduates of the Faculty of Fine Arts to continue learning and to seek out innovative ways of doing things.
“You have chosen the path of knowledge to make a better world for yourselves and for others,” she said.
“It is now your responsibility to take this world further, to open its barriers, to fight inadequacies and iniquities, to find better ways to share the world we live in. It is your privilege as free human beings to make change happen. Make sure you do.”
While accepting an honorary doctorate from the John Molson School of Business alongside his wife Renata, philanthropist Michal Hornstein described the harrowing years he spent hiding from the Nazis during the Second World War.
“I don't know how many of you have shared similar experiences, but those who have known that hardship, if it doesn't kill you, it can make you stronger, more tenacious and more resilient,” he said.
After emigrating to Canada, Hornstein found success — and professional fulfillment — in real estate. “My advice to you would be the same. Build your business around your passion, regardless of the challenges you may face or how long it might take.”
Recently, the Hornsteins — who have long given generously to institutions including Concordia — announced that they will donate the entirety of their vast collection of art to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
“It’s important to share your success with others,” Michal said. “Humanitarian, financial and cultural contributions have far-reaching benefits for generations.”
Watch the valedictorians’ speeches.