Fall convocation 2017: ‘Your education is a lifelong process’
“As we celebrate, it’s important to take stock, to remember that today is also about the bigger picture,” said Concordia’s president Alan Shepard during fall convocation, held at Place des Arts on Monday, November 20.
He joined distinguished honorands and valedictorians in offering his best wishes and words of encouragement to the more than 1,700 members of the Class of 2017.
“Your education doesn’t stop now. It’s a lifelong process and increasingly so as the pace of our knowledge society accelerates,” Shepard said.
“As you continue learning, the ideas you engaged with and the experiences you had here at your alma mater will help you make sense of our complex world and become leaders in it.”
‘A full backpack’
During the Faculty of Arts and Science convocation ceremony, honorary doctorate recipient Bernard Voyer, renowned Canadian explorer and mountaineer, talked about the importance of persistence in the face of adversity.
“There will be times when you face storms and strong headwinds. But this is exactly when all your experience comes into play, when we see the power of your passion.”
Voyer has trekked to both the North Pole and the South Pole, and climbed seven of the world’s highest mountains. He reminded the graduating class that the summit of one accomplishment is where you gain the proper vantage point to see other, new peaks.
“You will not see far from the basement of your home — you must go out and find the road. You are the only owner of your path.”
Voyer urged graduates to think not only of themselves while forging their way forward, but also the wider world. He ended his address by reminding students that, despite the day’s celebratory atmosphere, they are only just starting their journey.
“Today you are not at the summit. But you do have a full backpack, thanks to Concordia. You are armed with the skills you need to make the climb on your own and undertake future challenges. Go climb. Go high.”
‘Experience is your greatest asset’
Erin McNally, valedictorian for the Faculty of Arts and Science, spoke about growth in the face of uncertainty.
“Just as science is constantly being written, so too are our stories. With every new experience comes a meaningful chapter that will guide us to the next. Embrace these opportunities,” advised McNally, who completed her PhD in Biology.
“Your experiences are one of your greatest assets and they are your own. No one else can claim them.”
McNally’s groundbreaking research, for which she won the PhD Accelerator Award, focuses on cell survival and longevity. It contributes to the fight against cancer and other age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s. She recalled being drawn to science from an early age.
“Even though I didn’t know what specific career I wanted to pursue, I decided to follow what I did know. I wanted to conduct research and I knew the value of education — that wherever I ended up, I could leverage my knowledge and practical experiences,” McNally said.
“This notion brought me to Concordia and my experience here has opened the door to new career possibilities and allowed me to discover what I want from my next chapter.”
‘Courage is about doing what is right’
Honorand Isabelle Hudon, the first woman ambassador to represent Canada in Paris and the former executive chair of Sun Life Financial Quebec, told the John Molson School of Business (JMSB) graduating class about reinterpreting what it means to be courageous.
“In our collective imagination, it is quite striking how often we associate the idea with great adversity, struggle and actual pain,” she said.
“Such a view of courage is incomplete. It focuses on the spectacular and on the visible, and in doing so, it misses a more important dimension of courage — the actual foundations of it.”
For Hudon, the three foundations of courage are personal value, facts and knowledge, and ambition.
She stressed the fact that you don’t have to be dominant to be courageous, citing the #metoo movement led by survivors of sexual assault as one of the most remarkable displays of courage in recent memory.
“I am a true believer that courage is more about persistence than bravery. It is about personal integrity. It is not about doing what is difficult, but doing what is right.”
‘Yes I can’
In his address, JMSB valedictorian Hamed Ghanbari shared several important lessons, including the importance of self-confidence and determination.
“Mistakes, failures, embarrassments and disappointments are a necessary part of growing wise,” he said.
“When your journey seems too hard, don’t lose hope in the face of naysayers and cynics. Such people spend their lives waiting for a moment that just doesn't come.”
When he left his job to pursue a PhD in Business Administration, Ghanbari decided to do his dissertation on a theoretically demanding and practically challenging topic.
“At first they told me this is impossible. You can’t do it. You should just give up and settle with an easier topic. But I kept fighting for what I believed.”
Ghanbari’s research contributed to methodological evaluations and analyses of index and equity options in the options market, one of the most active financial markets in existence. His work earned him multiple awards and scholarships.
“Tell yourself what I have found handy these past years: ‘Yes I can.’”
‘Find your place in the sun’
At a joint ceremony for the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science and the Faculty of Fine Arts, Concordia honorand, serial entrepreneur and investment banker Kon Leong (BComm 79) discussed how to lead a life that will have impact.
“Don’t follow the crowd. I did, and I wasted 10 years of my life,” said Leong, who started in finance despite his heart not being in it.
He went on to suggest that students draw two circles: “In the first, list all your natural strengths. In the second, list all the things you love to do. Then look for an intersection.”
Leong also encouraged students to take risks early on in their prospective careers.
“You have a grace period of a couple years where you can experiment freely and find your place in the sun. You are flexible. Don’t wait for time and obligations to restrict you. Don’t wait until you’re 50 and wondering what happened.”
‘Hope over fear’
Valedictorian Kristopher Woofter, who received his PhD in Film and Moving Image Studies, addressed graduates from the Faculty of Fine Arts.
He recalled the international turbulence of this past year — Brexit, the election of US President Donald Trump, a simmering North Korea — and urged his fellow graduates not to give in to fear.
“We live in a world where it is easy for us to be afraid of one another, and that strips people of their voices, their choices, their hope,” said Woofter, whose research centres on the intersection between horror and documentary cinema.
“Among the many things horror shows us is the desire to confront what disturbs us about our moment,” he explained.
“As new grads, fight the kind of fear that strips people of their dignity. You don’t have to be a Marvel superhero or John Oliver or Steven Colbert to do this. You have only to build community. Locally, virtually, globally, we all have the potential to be active. The way we act and interact with one another is perhaps one of the greatest gestures we can make toward a future of hope.”
See highlights from Concordia’s 2017 fall convocation ceremonies.