Dean Chan addresses 2022 graduates at 4th annual Black Grad

Published: 6 May 2022

Black members of McGill’s Class of 2022 celebrated the completion of their degrees in-person at the fourth annual Black Grad event on Sunday, May 1 at the Omni Mont-Royal. The event, inspired by similar ones at Harvard, Yale and the University of Toronto, honours graduating students ahead of next month’s Convocation – and highlights their accomplishments despite the institutional, economic and socio-cultural barriers to accessing higher education.

Organized by the Black Students' Network of McGill (BSN), the McGill African Students Society (MASS) and African Studies McGill, the ceremony invited Associate Professor Patricia Faison Hewlin, Senior Development Officer Joy Bennett and Dean Yolande E. Chan, who joined Desautels Faculty as McGill University’s first Black Dean in 2021, to address attendees.

Dean Chan highlighted to graduates that their education carries significant responsibility and inspired them to use it to do good by pointing to the story of Viola Desmond, the Black Nova Scotia woman who was removed from a movie theatre in 1946 for sitting in a whites-only section, issuing a challenge to segregation and racism in Canada nearly a decade before Rosa Parks.

“What you may not know is that Viola literally went out of her way to be educated, travelling to cities in the U.S. and Canada, including Montreal, to train to be a beautician,” Dean Chan said. “She then turned around and opened the Desmond School of Beauty Culture to educate other Black women. Her students were encouraged to open businesses to provide jobs for still other Black women. She gave back.”

“When we look at Viola Desmond’s story, it’s clear that life is not primarily about comfort. It’s about recognizing where you and I have advantages where we’re privileged, and using these privileges to give opportunities to others, and living courageously, boldly. And every one of us is writing a story like Viola’s, or even like mine. A little page of history.”

Learn more in the McGill Reporter

Recording: McGill Black Grad [Dean Chan's address at 00:15:00]

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