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Honorary degree citation - Jill Ker Conway

By: Jack N. Lightstone, December 2003

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you Dr. Jill Ker Conway professor, writer, university administrator, activist on the boards of numerous public and private institutions and agent of change.

Born in Hillston, New South Wales, Australia in 1934, Dr. Conway resided in a house called "Coorain," the aboriginal word for "windy place" in the Australian outback until the death of her father. The beautiful, but harsh outback and the struggle of her family, particularly her mother, would be a crucial factor in shaping her life as was the death of her older brother shortly after her family left the outback.

It was in Sydney, where she moved with her mother and her remaining brother, that she would have her first taste of patriarchy's cold shoulder. She would be denied acceptance to the Foreign Service because she was "too intellectually aggressive" and "too good looking." In other words: because she was a woman. This experience, along with the lifelong struggle of her mother for access to a formal education, would permeate her writing in the coming years.

En 1958, Jill Ker Conway quitte l'Université de Sydney avec un baccalauréat en poche. Elle part s'établir aux États-Unis en 1960, où elle s'inscrit à l'Université Harvard. Elle y rencontre celui qui allait devenir son mari. John Conway, professeur d'histoire britannique et héro de guerre canadien.

Après avoir obtenu un doctorat de l'Université de Harvard, elle s'installe à Toronto et enseigne à l'Université de Toronto de 1964-1975. Elle a été vice-présidente de cet établissement de 1973 à 1975.

In 1958, she graduated from the University of Sydney, and moved to the United States in 1960. It was there, while she pursued her studies at Harvard, that she would meet her future husband and soul mate, a professor of British History and Canadian war hero named John Conway. She received her PhD from Harvard in 1969 and shortly thereafter they moved to Toronto, where she taught at the University of Toronto from 1964-1975, serving as Vice President from 1973-1975.

It was in her writing that Dr. Conway found "the voice," both her own voice and a voice for countless other women. Her writing is lucid and direct, charged with a heartfelt passion that questions the status quo.

Dr. Conway has written prolifically about the remnants of British post-colonialism in Australian literature. Her first book, The Road from Coorain, is an autobiographical account of her journey from the rural Australian outback to the urban metropolises in both Australia and the United States, and tells of a stifling academic environment that paid scarce attention to Australian literature.

Dr. Conway went on to write True North, a continuation of her life's story that traces her journey from Harvard to her marriage and to her presidency of Smith College in 1975. She documents her years as the first female president in the College's 100-year history in A woman’s Education. Smith, the US's largest liberal arts college for women, was Dr. Conway's home for ten years. During those years, she helped, redefine and redesign the institution, spearheading, among other things, innovative program to help students both academically and financially. The experience reinforced a lifelong commitment to educational policy and the women's education internationally.

Insatisfaite des compromis auxquels devaient consentir les étudiants dans le besoin, elle décide de mettre en place un nouveau système qui permet de leur redistribuer les bourses d'études sous forme de remboursement de loyer et de produits alimentaires ou d'assistance médicale.

Ms Conway has edited three anthologies of women's autobiography from around the world, the most recent being In Her Own Words. Her latest books include a mystery novel written in collaboration with Elizabeth Kennan under the pseudonym, Clare Munnings, titled Overnight Float.

In addition to her scholastic and literary ambitions, Dr. Conway also served on the board of directors for numerous corporations and public institutions and lent her talents to promotion, fundraising and advancement work. At Nike, for example, she frequently visits factories in Southeast Asia to ensure equitable treatment of factory workers employed in making Nike products. She has also spearheaded support for a Nike­ sponsored literacy program that provides workers with access to middle- and high-school educations. She has been on the board of Merrill Lynch and Co., Colgate Palmolive Co., as well as Lend Lease Corporation where she was Chair from 2000 to 2003. Throughout she looked to increase her understanding of the world and how she could apply it to her work on behalf of those in need.

Dr. Conway has exemplified the values of honesty and integrity, telling her story in her own words and ensuring that fairness and equitability prevail in whatever spheres she can influence, and for this she should be recognized.

Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of Senate and the Board of Governors, it is my privilege and an honour to present to you Dr. Jill Ker Conway, so that you may confer upon her the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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