The Max Bell School is proud to announce the graduation of McGill University’s second cohort of Master of Public Policy (MPP) students.
The Class of 2021 faced many challenges over the past year. Their courses were intensive and demanding — even more so during a global pandemic. However, this cohort of 35 students was able to meet these circumstances head-on, adjust to the virtual classroom, and complete their degree in a show of resilience.
To celebrate their exceptional work, members of the McGill community spoke at a virtual graduation ceremony, offering congratulations and words of advice.
In her address to the Class of 2021, McGill University Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier suggested that, despite the myriad difficulties posed by pursuing an MPP during a pandemic, there may be a silver lining in being the “COVID Cohort”: “In some ways, you may have gotten a whole lot more than you were expecting. Because this pandemic is really one of the most challenging public policy cases we’ve ever faced, and you were right in the midst of it.”
Max Bell School Professor Jennifer Welsh offered some words of wisdom: First, “Never confuse your interests with your capabilities.” Second, she implored the class to remember the “public” in “public policy.” “This pandemic really showed us the limits of private actors and the degree to which we need policy that is based on an understanding of the public good and how to deliver it.”
Graduates also heard from another faculty member, Professor Pearl Eliadis, who emphasized the importance of love in the policymaking process. “I mean love in the sense that the Indigenous scholar John Burrows mentioned when he observed that love takes up very little place in our conversations about policy. When he talked about love, he was talking about selfless service to a broader community, and its strong connections to the values of equality and autonomy.” She went on, “The point is that the recognition of our shared humanity, as well as, increasingly, the need to include selfless service to the environment, are now understood to be foundational to good policy.”
Nirushaa Senthilnathan, President of the McGill Alumni Public Policy Society, gave the graduates sage advice about embracing the qualities that make them special: “Own who you are and all the professional and personal experiences that have led you to where you are today. Because, clearly, you’re doing something right. And we all need you to move towards designing policies that are more holistic and inclusive of people around the world."
Chris Ragan, Director of the Max Bell School, encouraged graduates to lean into complexity. “Public policy is about society, and society is a messy thing. The world’s most interesting policy problems are complicated, with many moving pieces and many messy trade-offs.”
Chosen from a pool of close to 250 applicants, the 2021 class was made up of students diverse in both origins and professional experience. This cohort left its mark by overseeing launch of the Public Policy Association of Graduate Students (PPAGS). It was one thing to create an organization from scratch during a pandemic, it was quite another to host a Prime Minister, policy leaders and some of the best policy schools from around the world as part of their programming. Yet the most crucial aspect of PPAGS is its role in anticipating and advocating for student needs associated with a diverse range of backgrounds, cultures, experiences, and abilities. As Presidents Anil Wasif and Jonathan Lesarge summed it up, "The hallmark of our successful tenure was understanding the lived experiences of each member of the cohort and engaging them accordingly. This was only made possible by a highly motivated executive team, always ready to go an extra mile for better public policy".
PPAGS’s flagship event of 2021 was the Policy Under Pressure case competition, which brought together policy professionals from across the board who adjudicated quick-fire presentations on the right path forward for Canada in the global arena. The case, released just four hours before the competition, had student teams choosing between preventing a future pandemic, halting climate change or mitigating the negative consequences of platform technologies as Canada's policy priority for the G20. The competition was tight, with 4 teams presenting spectacular pathways for Canada to lead the charge on one of the issues, but in the end Danielle Appavoo, Rym Cheriet & Yvette Yakibonge's bid for putting Canada at the forefront of pandemic preparations, came out on top. Along with taking home a grand prize of $2000, the winners are also penning their thoughts for MAX Policy, in consultation with Prime Minister Paul Martin to spread their ideas beyond the Max Bell School.
The School wishes the best to its graduates as they build their careers and navigate the world of public policy. With members of our second cohort joining organizations including the Ontario Digital Service, StrategyCorp, Guidehouse, Universities Canada, the Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness, Rio Tinto, and more, the future holds much promise for our 2021 MPP graduates.