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Concordia’s new honorands describe a turning point in their lives

From an unexpected essay to a casual lab experiment, 6 distinguished Canadians recall their formative educational experiences
May 28, 2014
By Tom Peacock

Stuart McLean, Chantal Hébert, Bryan Kolb, Chantal Pontbriand, Gregg Saretsky and Louis R. Chênevert
Stuart McLean, Chantal Hébert, Bryan Kolb, Chantal Pontbriand, Gregg Saretsky and Louis R. Chênevert

At the 2014 spring convocation ceremonies, Concordia is welcoming eight new honorands: two philanthropists, a political columnist, an art critic, a neuroscientist, two business leaders and one of the CBC’s most recognizable voices.

These distinguished Canadians will be addressing the university’s latest cohort of graduates on June 9, 10 and 11 at Place des Arts in Montreal.

In anticipation of the wise words to come, we asked six of the new honorands to tell us about their most formative educational experiences. The two other honorary doctorate recipients, Michal and Renata Hornstein, will be profiled in an article published next week.

Stuart McLean finds his sea legs at Sir George Williams

Stuart McLean, OC, LLD
Host of The Vinyl Café on CBC Radio
Concordia convocation address: Faculty of Arts and Science — 10 a.m. on June 9

I was pretty confused by the schoolyard. I was pretty confused by everything in those days. Like most little boys back then, I dreamed of becoming an athlete, but I was never destined to succeed at any sport, and I never excelled in the classroom.

On my final high-school report card, my principal summed up my academic career in two sentences: ‘He is still immature and confused. He thinks he works but, in fact, he absorbs very little.’ 

At Sir George Williams, I was utterly unprepared for university and floundered at first, but I fell under the care of some wonderful professors. Michael Bryan taught introductory English with panache and sparkle. Professor William Lambert Gardiner taught psychology, and Taylor Buckner, sociology.

I wandered through the English department and the theatre department, and finally settled in applied social science. Somehow, by graduation, I had learned something, and in the learning gained my sea legs. I was ready to set off — for what, I didn’t know.

Chantal Hébert
discovers her journalistic voice

Chantal Hébert, OC, LLD
National affairs writer and political columnist at the Toronto Star and L’actualité
Concordia convocation address: Faculty of Arts and Science — 3 p.m. on June 9

I already had the short attention span of a future journalist when I entered York University’s Glendon College at age 17. I was short of the stamina required to stay put for long lectures, and plagued with a burning desire for protagonists in seminar discussions to cut to the chase.

I spent my university years counting down the days until I looked old enough to apply for a job in a newsroom, a goal I achieved on my 21st birthday. I managed to land some As along the way, but it was a B+ on a political science essay — about what, if anything, differentiated the federal Tories from the Liberals — that most boosted my confidence.

It came with a terse two-word comment: ‘too journalistic.’

Bryan Kolb recalls the experiment that started it all

Bryan Kolb, MSc, PhD
Neuroscientist at the University of Lethbridge
Concordia convocation address: Faculty of Arts and Science — 7:30 p.m. on June 9

I began university in 1965 planning to be a lawyer, although a bit unsure of what that would mean as a career.

In those days, all courses were a full year, so we got to know the TAs pretty well. My TA for introductory psychology asked me if I wanted to work in a lab. I really had no idea what that would mean, but I said, ‘Sure.’

I began by doing statistical analyses for Professor Robert Franken at the University of Calgary. There were no computer programs for stats, so they were done by hand, with a newfangled machine called an electronic calculator. It was very labour-intensive.

I continued to do this until the following fall semester, when Professor Franken asked me if I wanted to do an experiment with rats. Again, I agreed, and discovered the seduction of research. That was the end of law and the beginning of a nearly 50-year run of lab work.

I owe my science career to Karen Ogston, who wondered if I wanted to work in a lab. 

Louis R. Chênevert recognizes the power of people

Louis R. Chênevert, BComm
Chairman and chief executive officer of United Technologies Corporation
Concordia convocation address: Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science — 10 a.m. on June 10

I learned a valuable lesson early in my career — that if you give people the right support, resources and opportunity, they can solve almost any problem.

It was my first job out of college, working as a management trainee on General Motors’ Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and Pontiac Grand Prix frame line. On my second day, the production supervisor was out, and I had to lead the line. I discovered that a quality issue with an axle fixture was causing a tremendous amount of time-consuming rework. It had been this way for weeks. Workers on the line knew there was a problem, but they weren’t working together on a solution.

As the new guy, I asked a lot of questions and brought the team together. By the next night, the fixture worked perfectly. The fix wasn’t complicated; it simply required bringing the right people together with the right focus and support.

Gregg Saretsky takes his first lesson in leadership

Gregg Saretsky, BSc, MBA
President and chief executive officer of WestJet

Concordia convocation address: John Molson School of Business  — 10 a.m. on June 11

While I studied microbiology and biochemistry at University of British Columbia, and then eventually pursued graduate studies in business, I had a Spanish professor who taught with passion. 

Señora Sanford worked hard to make her classes different. She taught not only the language, but also the culture. Her lessons were infused with interesting stories of time spent on the Iberian Peninsula, and of people she met along the way.

She took time to learn something about each of her students, then used that information in class to make learning more fun, and to create a sense of community and camaraderie. Learning was never more enjoyable than with her unique approach.

Many of my lessons in leadership are drawn from those early-day Spanish classes, when I first saw the power of an inspirational leader.

Chantal Pontbriand learns the value of willpower

Chantal Pontbriand
Contemporary art critic and curator
Concordia convocation address: Faculty of Fine Arts — 7:30 p.m. on June 11

My father is the main person to thank for this honorary doctorate. He was a great example and teacher — an opera singer with a second life in which he developed a utopian garden city.

I learned many things from him: intellectual rigour, discipline, the ambition to realize forward-thinking projects and what the bizarre word “stamina” meant!

I learned that the greatest gift is willpower. It’s at the core of becoming yourself. It enables us to give the best of what we are, and to encourage others to have confidence in themselves, their ideas and their ambitions for a better world.


Michal Hornstein, OC, GOQ, and Renata Hornstein will receive honorary doctorates at the John Molson School of Business’ convocation ceremony on June 11 at 3 p.m.

Michal, a prominent Montreal real estate executive, and Renata, a poet, have dedicated their lives to cultural and philanthropic causes, including the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Jewish General Hospital. They will be profiled in a NOW story published next week.

All Concordia spring 2014 convocation ceremonies will be held in the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier at Place des Arts (175 Ste-Catherine St. W.) in Montreal.

Find out more about this spring’s honorands, and consult the complete Concordia spring 2014 convocation schedule.


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