Yesterday, UBC President and Vice-Chancellor, Santa Ono, presided over a virtual ceremony, bestowing an honorary degree upon McGill’s Vice-Principal, Research & Innovation, Prof. Martha Crago. Crago was celebrated as, “one of Canada’s most influential leaders in research and academic administration,” noting that, “the extent and breadth of her activities are truly remarkable.” Crago is among six honorary doctorate recipients celebrated by UBC Okanagan today, each an esteemed academic or community leader.
In remarks played at the virtual ceremony, Crago reflected on lessons learned while working with Inuit communities of Nunavik and in Northern Québec, impressing upon UBC’s graduating class the values of collective action and shared wisdom: “In a place of extreme climate or in a time of a global health crisis, we need each other and each member of the community to act in the interest of all in order to overcome the adversity that confronts us”, she said. “Perhaps it will be our ability to think as "we" and not "I" that will emerge as one of the most valuable legacies of this otherwise truly difficult time.”
Crago has served as Vice-Principal, Research & Innovation at McGill University since 2017, the same year she was appointed as a member of the Order of Canada. She has played a significant leadership role in the advancement of research and education through her participation on an extraordinary number of government, industry and academic organizations, including as Chair of the Research Committee of the U15 group of Canada’s research-intensive universities and President of the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies. She currently serves as Chair of the Governing Council of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
“I am delighted that the University of British Columbia Okanagan has chosen to recognize Professor Crago’s outstanding contributions to scientific research and innovation in Quebec, Canada and beyond, by honouring her in this manner,” said Suzanne Fortier, Principal of McGill.
An expert on language acquisition, and a polyglot—Crago speaks English, French, German, Inuktitut and Brazilian Portuguese—, her work has been published extensively in scientific journals and books. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Applied Psycholinguistics, published by Cambridge University Press. She was Vice President of the International Association for the Study of Child Language from 2007 to 2010.
In her remarks, Crago also encouraged students to be courageous in chasing their dreams, describing her decision to start a PhD after the death of her sister and while parenting three children under the age of five: “I might not be here with you today if I had not found the courage to dream and then act,” she said.
Read Prof. Cargo’s convocation speech below:
Mr. Chancellor, Mr. President and Members of the UBC Community:
What can I tell you at a time like this?
You, your family and friends - all of us - have been forged by a year like none other we have ever lived through. To deal with it, I, personally, have tried to use certain guideposts from my past life and from my present readings to make sense of it. I wanted to share some of them with you.
I have learned from a new book by Jonathan Sacks called Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times (Hodder & Stoughton, 2020) to think about the importance of "we" rather than "I", in other words, the importance of the collective and of shared response and responsibility instead of the focus on the self and on the individual. For me the wearing of the Covid mask embodies this. Its importance is to protect the other and not primarily the self. We wear them for the common good.
Some years ago, I learned about the concept of orienting children to their community while doing research with the Inuit of Nunavik or Northern Québec. In studying how Inuit raised their children to be members of their family and community group, I learned that Inuit teachers who taught in Inuktitut in the first three grades of school only called for group responses from the children in their classrooms. When these children moved on to Grade 3, they encountered non-Inuit teachers for the first time. With these new teachers, the children found it very hard and very uncomfortable when they were called on to answer as individuals in front of the group, often hiding their faces in their hands. As I watched this classroom behavior play out from grade to grade, I remembered something that an experienced Inuk educator, Betsy Annahatak, once told me about why socializing children to become members of the group was so important for Inuit. She said quite succinctly, "The North cannot be lived alone." In a place of extreme climate or in a time of a global health crisis, we need each other and each member of the community to act in the interest of all in order to overcome the adversity that confronts us. Perhaps it will be our ability to think as "we" and not "I" that will emerge as one of the most valuable legacies of this otherwise truly difficult time. If we walk away from the pandemic more conscious of our social responsibility, we will all be better for it.
But it will take courage to get through these difficult days. Difficulty, of course, need not lead to inaction, far from it. Many years ago, at a very difficult time in my own life when I had lost my favorite sister to breast cancer, I felt quite lost and alone. One day after her death, while walking down a street in Montreal, I saw a sign on the wall of a church with a quote by the German writer, Goethe, that said:
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Courage has genius, power, and magic in it.
That was that day, right then and there, that I decided to start a PhD with three children under the age of five. It wasn't always easy but as my wise father reminded me, "I never told you that life would be easy." I might not be here with you today if I had not found the courage to dream and then act. Thirty-five years later, that quote by Goethe still hangs on my office wall.
I leave you with the hope that this dark time will spur us on to think more of others and to dream and have the courage to realize our dreams. For to dream is to envision the future. And it is our belief in that future and our role in shaping it that lies in front of us. I wish you all courage to meet adversity with actions born of big dreams and carried out in the interest of others.