When I pass the crossroads in front of the Arts Building, during my final weeks as Principal, I’m transported back to my first day at McGill. Early morning, January 4, 2003. Bitter cold, pitch black. Around 7 a.m., as I walked up the road, I realized someone had been up long before me. And they’d been busy. There, in front of James McGill’s tomb, was a snow sculpture: “Welcome Heather, from the Sustainability students of McGill.”
I came to McGill as an outsider and that sculpture—and all the warmth that it represented—meant a lot to me. It moved me then. Its image, still in my mind, moves me now.
When I talk to beaming parents and joyful grads, I’m swept up in pride for all they’ve accomplished. I’ve been to over 150 convocations. You’d think it would get old, but it doesn’t.
When I see groundskeepers carefully nursing new sod, or coaxing life out of the soil, I’m moved by their sense of pride, their commitment to making McGill look good during tough times. And these are tough times. It might be easy for some to forget the flower beds for a season, to let it slide. But our groundskeepers choose to care.
I’ve been a member of six university communities. Each has its own strengths—and yet I’ve never seen the wholesale dedication to the institution and its mission of excellence that I’ve experienced here—at McGill. During my installation speech, I said that McGill was blessed by the quality of its people. That was obvious to me right from the start. Now, more than 10 years later, I have an even deeper sense of just how committed the people of McGill are to the well-being of their university—our university. I see this commitment in our students—I think about those snow-sculptors of 2003, and how they kick-started a sustainability initiative that has reshaped the consciousness of this university. I see it in our brilliant faculty. I see it in our devoted staff.
Every success the university has experienced in the past decade—and there have been many—is because of the efforts of a community of people. We’ve seen a transformation in how we do scholarship and research, embracing interdisciplinarity, research platforms, and collaborative scholarly teams —and not just in the obvious “fits,” such as the physical sciences, the life sciences and engineering, but in the social sciences and humanities. We’ve lifted our national impact, our global reputation, our recruitment and retention of excellent people, and we’ve renewed our sense of purpose.
McGill has changed a lot in 10 years, because of you.
McGill is strong, because of you.
Every leader depends on those around them. Every leader needs help. You have been generous and open-hearted in the support you have offered to me as Principal. For this, I thank you. And I take great reassurance in knowing that you will extend the same warmth and generosity of spirit to McGill’s incoming Principal, Suzanne Fortier.
Every single day of the past 10 and a half years, I have felt the honour and the joy of serving McGill. Every day, rain or shine.
I thank you warmly for your commitment, for your engagement, for the pleasure of serving, together, the noble mission of McGill. It has been my honour to serve with you.
With my very best wishes,
June 4, 2013