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Concordia's spring 2015 honorands describe a turning point in their lives

From a voyage behind the Iron Curtain to a son’s sage words, the 6 distinguished recipients recall their formative educational experiences
May 25, 2015
By Tom Peacock

From left to right: Angèle Dubeau, Kenneth Deer, Christiana Figueres, Anne-Marie Hubert, Emanuele (Lino) Saputo, K. G. Terry Hollands. Worldly advice and encouragement. From left: Angèle Dubeau, Kenneth Deer, Christiana Figueres, Anne-Marie Hubert, Emanuele (Lino) Saputo and K. G. Terry Hollands.

At this year’s spring convocation ceremonies, Concordia is welcoming six new honorands: a classical violinist; a First Nations journalist, educator and activist; a leading figure in the international fight against climate change; an expert in governance; a solar energy pioneer; and a Montreal entrepreneur who built a global empire. 

The distinguished honorary doctorates who are joining the Class of 2015 will address the university’s almost 6,000 graduates during the ceremonies at Place des Arts, from June 8 to 10.

In anticipation of the worldly advice to come, we asked the spring 2015 honorands to tell us about the learning experiences that shaped them — as people and professionals.

Kenneth Deer recalls his quest for identity

I think the most profound educational experience for me was early in my life, when I went to high school off the reserve.

I knew I was Mohawk and different from the other students in the school, but I did not know why I was different. I could not explain myself to the others. I was not taught anything about my language and culture in the government-run elementary school. This led me on a lifelong journey of discovery about who I was and what it is to be a Mohawk.

This search motivated me to make sure other Mohawks children didn’t face that same situation that I did. I wanted our children to know their language and their history and their culture before venturing out into the larger world where they can be secure about who they are, be successful and ensure the survival of the Mohawk People.

Journalist, educator and political activist Kenneth Deer addresses Concordia’s Faculty of Arts and Science at 3 p.m. on Monday, June 8. 

Anne-Marie Hubert is reminded of the importance of listening

I think of a number of teachers who shared their passion with us, took the time to share their perspectives on my career plans and influenced key decisions that impacted the rest of my life.

I also think of my parents who helped us develop strong values, made us believe in ourselves and also transmitted to my brothers and me their passion for reading. Only recently I realized that over 40 per cent of Canadians do not have a level of literacy that is high enough to enable them to achieve their potential. They do not comprehend texts well enough to use the information to learn and grow. Thanks to my parents for bringing us to the library and getting us to love reading.

One of my most formative learning experiences however came from my younger son. We had different perspectives during the student strike a few years ago, and he said: “Mom, you always told me it was important to listen to different points of view and make an effort to understand the perspectives of others. I am talking to you and you are not even listening.” Sadly, he was right. I had such a strong point-of-view that I had blinders on, and did not listen well.

I always thought I was an open person, that I was listening to other points of view, but he made me realize that I had strong biases in the circumstances that prevented me from being who I wanted to be.  

Anne-Marie Hubert, managing partner of Advisory Services for Ernst and Young Canada (EY), addresses the John Molson School of Business at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, June 9. 

Angèle Dubeau describes the international experiences that shaped her

I started studying violin at age 4 and by age 8, I was already in Montreal at the Conservatoire de Musique. I received my First Prize with High Distinction from this institution at age 15. A First Prize at the Conservatoire de Musique is the equivalent of a master’s degree. 

I then went on to study in New York with Dorothy DeLay at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music. My arrival in the Big Apple was my first real contact with violinists of international calibre. I realized that if I worked hard, I could also reach the summit. I didn't come from a big town, but I could definitely keep my head up high and be proud of my achievements.

This is when I decided to push my career even further and quit Juilliard to travel to Romania and study with the brilliant teacher Stefan Gheorghiu. When I arrived in 1981, Romania was under the Ceausescu communist regime and I never could have imagined what was awaiting me there. Those four years were hard physically and emotionally but it was the most gratifying moment of my education. Ultimately, I had followed my passion for music and I had succeeded.

The diverse background and knowledge that I acquired through the many fantastic pedagogues is what made me the musician I am today. Quitting my comfort zone in New York to go to Romania made me realize that you must always put everything in perspective and push yourself in order to achieve your goals.

Violinist Angèle Dubeau addresses Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 10. 

K. G. Terry Hollands meets his mentor Down Under

Although I had several inspiring professors in my undergraduate program in engineering physics, it was after that that I met my mentor: an American in Australia. Bob Dunkle had been a professor at Berkeley. We had both arrived in Australia just recently: him to do research in solar energy at the government research labs, me to discover the country of my recent bride. I soon landed a job, working with Bob. It was 1961: the environment was not on people’s radar.

Shortly after joining, I asked about a graph on his bulletin board. Hand-drawn, it showed the world population versus time. A quiet, humble man, not given to pontificating, he responded by explaining the (yet unnamed) theory of Limits to Growth — that the Earth is finite and that our current path of exploiting its resources and abusing its atmosphere cannot be sustained. I was hooked: this was research that was fun and aligned perfectly with my social consciousness. I owe a lot to Bob.

K. G. Terry Hollands, distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo, addresses Concordia’s Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, June 10. 

Christiana Figueres learns to love language from an inspired teacher

I was born and grew up in Costa Rica, and Spanish is therefore my native tongue. My fourth- and fifth-grade class teacher was nothing short of an academic wonder: she taught me Spanish spelling and grammar as though it were the most inspired and inspiring topic the human mind had ever encountered. To be honest I have no idea how she managed to transform such a dry topic into a daily adventure, but the imprint was deep.

I devoured all the ins and outs of grammar and developed a piercing eye for spelling, or rather for misspelling. A few years later I extended my strange enthusiasm to English, and have maintained it in both languages ever since, leading to the inevitable nickname of "eagle eye." Today my colleagues actually fear sending me any text for approval. Even if three pairs of eyes have already proofread it, I am condemned to pick up the one typo, the one grammatical mistake that has gone unnoticed by others. I quickly detect mistakes in public signs in buses, in trains, in restaurants. I find it humorous to note how many misspelled signs are happily printed by the thousands and posted everywhere for all to enjoy.

I have considered changing my profession to become an editor, but I fear I would deprive myself of the fun of the unexpected discovery. So I continue to walk around with an eagle eye that provides me countless moments of humour, everywhere.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, addresses Concordia’s Faculty of Arts and Science via taped message at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, June 8.

Emanuele (Lino) Saputo remembers his humble beginnings

My father was a master cheesemaker in Italy and had his own business. In the early 1950s, when we immigrated to Canada, I was only 15 years old and my father was working hard in difficult conditions that took a toll on his health. I promised myself that I would give back to my father the pride he had in Italy; to care for his family by running his own business and making cheese.

At the beginning, my father was skeptical; it was a new country, new language and a new way of doing things. I had to work day and night to show my father that I was right and I worked three jobs to earn the money we needed to start the company.

In 1954, my father, my mother and I began making Italian specialty cheeses. We had $500 for basic equipment and a bicycle for deliveries. My father taught me that the best asset of a company is its human resources. This is at the core of Saputo’s values: if you give your employees a sense of pride and belonging, the rest, along with hard work, will come. That’s the main reason we were able to grow our modest family business into what it is today, a worldwide dairy company with close to 12,000 employees.

Emanuele (Lino) Saputo, founder and chair of Saputo Incorporated, addresses Concordia’s John Molson School of Business at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, June 9.

All Concordia spring 2015 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.


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