Collation de grades du printemps 2014

Principal Suzanne Fortier
May 27 to June 4, 2014

Bienvenue aux finissants de 2014. Welcome to the graduating class of 2014. I am joined here today by your families and friends, by our Chancellor, the Chair of the Board, our Chancellors Emeriti, our Governors Emeriti, Principals Emeriti, by our distinguished honourary degree recipients, award recipients, by special guests and esteemed colleagues.  We are here, together, to express how proud we are of you and of everything that has brought you here today.

C’est pour moi un immense bonheur de vous féliciter pour vos réalisations et votre persévérance. It is my great honour to congratulate you on your achievements and perseverance. Today marks an important milestone. Savour it. Enjoy it. Celebrate. Remember this moment.

Remember, too, all the people who have supported you in your studies. Family and friends, of course. Professors, librarians, staff. You have not been alone. Although, it may not have felt that way when you were writing a term paper or studying for an exam at two in the morning. I invite you graduates, to please stand up.  Look around you and give a big round of applause to all of those who have supported you over the years.

Have you ever finished a big project only to have someone say, “That is great. So what are you going to do next?” I hate that.

But, class of 2014, I have to ask… what is next for you?

Relax. You do not really have to answer me to get your degree.

But in all seriousness, the big question is not what is next?

The question is how you will face what is next for you. 

I am not talking about the steps you need to take to achieve your goals. I am talking about how you will be as you move into the next chapter of your lives. And the chapters after that.

Because there is so much more to come.

Today is a transition. You have finished your degree. That is no small thing. It is a given that you are going to do something next. You have a mind that is ready to learn, and there is much more learning to be done and to enjoy. For some of you, your next classroom may be the workforce. Certains de ces apprentissages se feront dans un établissement universitaire, peut-être même ici, à McGill, mais la plupart d’entre eux se feront tout au long de votre vie, où que vous soyez. Some of you might be preparing to travel. Or catching up on your sleep and just reconnecting with your life. Those are all great things. But those are all whats.

How are you going to do next? How are you going to navigate your transition into whatever next may be?

Transitions are exciting. They are also scary. Having recently come back to school myself, I understand those feelings.

When we find ourselves in times of transition, the people close to us reach out with advice, sometimes also with gifts, or gifts that are advice in disguise.  When I became Principal of McGill this past fall, I was lucky to receive such gifts. Let me share three of them with you.

I have known my friend Kay for 40 years. As young crystallographers, we started our research careers together. She gave me a fridge magnet that reads: “Proceed as if success is inevitable.” It is great to have a friend who believes in you! 

But what the message is telling us is assume responsibility for your own success. You are not an observer of your own life. You are the main actor in the play that is your future. You have been in the same place for a few years, and now you are leaving that comfort zone for something new and unknown. You are going to need to be resilient. I imagine that the road that brought you here today had more than a few potholes. I am talking about the metaphorical road but, since we are in Montreal, the same can be said for the real road. There will always be potholes. But with a good dose of determination, talent and optimism success will await you at the end of the road.

This brings me to Blair, a great colleague from Ottawa. She gave me a book as a gift, The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley. The title alone gives such wonderful pause for reflection. The Rational Optimist. Set your sights high, allow yourself to dream, but with your feet on the ground. Keep an eye on the big things you want to accomplish, the big goals, and take it a step at a time. Make sure you do everything that you can to make it happen.

The third gift came from Albert and Victor, the sons of my doctoral supervisor. They gave me a framed code of ethics that their father had written back in the forties. Among the code were important pieces of advice that have been with me all my life. “Do not bluff your way out of difficulties.” and “Keep your integrity at all times.” Those are powerful words, because whatever you do in life, the “what” eventually fades away and you are left with the “how”, how you feel about it deep down in your own soul.

Three gifts. But, really, they are just one gift: The special people you meet in life. Remember the friends you have made during your time at McGill. Keep them close.

Chancellor Steinberg is a perfect role model. This year marks the 60th anniversary of his own graduation, and he is still in touch with his classmates. And, of course, he stayed connected to McGill even as he moved through his own transitions and challenges and many successes. 

A few weeks ago, Chancellor Steinberg and I attended an event to honour some of our students. I introduced him to the parents of one of them: “C’est le chancelier de McGill”. As francophone, “chancelier”was not a term they were familiar with. So they thought I had said “c’est le chansonnier de McGill”, the singer songwriter of McGill University.  They were looking at each other in confusion. McGill being such a great institution must have, they thought, a highly acclaimed chansonnier but they did not know any of his greatest hits.

It made me reflect on Arnold Steinberg’s term as Chancellor and his many great hits.  Indeed, Chancellor Steinberg has played a huge role in writing the future of McGill and has sung our University’s praise relentlessly. And he has shown all of us how to do so with great charm, intelligence and humility.

He takes pure joy in the accomplishments of others and in nurturing their leadership. He is generous with his time and his wisdom, always ready to do an encore.  He loves to learn, and has an inquisitive and open mind. And most of all, he loves McGill and the McGill community with all his heart. “Mon cher Arnold”, tel que l’a écrit Gilles Vigneault,  un grand chansonnier québécois, “c’est à votre tour de vous laisser parler d’amour”.

Et à tous nos diplômés, sachez que vous vous joignez à une grande et belle famille. J’espère que vous considérez l’Université comme votre maison. Revenez-y le plus souvent possible, les portes vous seront grandes ouvertes.

I recently met some McGill alumni in New York City. They gave me what I think is the perfect description of our University: “A bunch of smart people, doing amazing things, and delivering results.” Please keep in touch. We are always eager to hear about your own amazing things.

Félicitations.