Convocation Address, June 2011

June 14, 2011

Professor Andrew Petter
President and Vice-Chancellor
Simon Fraser University

Forty-six years ago, Simon Fraser University’s first president, Patrick McTaggart-Cowan, stood on this spot and celebrated the opening of what he described as “an innovative and accessible” university.  Surveying this magnificent campus and anticipating its potential, he proclaimed: “There is magic on this mountain.”

In the years that have followed, SFU has grown up without growing old, becoming an esteemed institution, even while maintaining its vibrancy, its youthful outlook, and its spirit of adventure.  It also has come down from the mountain, adding campuses in Vancouver and Surrey, spreading its magic throughout the Lower Mainland and beyond.

Now rated Canada’s leading comprehensive university – and one of the top two hundred universities of the world – SFU has distinguished itself as an “engaged research university” celebrated for its dynamic integration of innovative teaching, cutting-edge research and far-reaching community engagement.  

Today, you are the beneficiaries of that success.  You share in the magic that is SFU!

To appreciate what this means for your future, it is worth reflecting upon the changes that have occurred during your lives thus far.  Consider technology.  It’s true that the “mobile” phone has been around for some time.  Apparently, the first call made from a car phone occurred in 1946, though the second call did not occur until a decade later, and even then the phone weighed forty kilos.  The cell phones we use today actually emerged in the early 1990s, around the time that most of you were born.

The internet exploded during the same period.  What was, in 1990, a hobby for military strategists and a few academics is now integral to virtually every part of our society and economy.

Then there’s social media.  Facebook was invented in 2004, YouTube in 2005, Twitter in 2006.  Today, they are powerful enough to energise political movements and to link citizens around the globe.

I raise all this to illustrate a point: the world is changing at a dizzying and accelerating pace.  Many jobs that greeted graduates twenty years ago are gone today; many of today’s jobs were unimaginable then; and many contemporary jobs will disappear in the years to come.

There is no way to predict with certainty which existing jobs will vanish and which new ones will emerge over the next decades.  We can speculate based on patterns and trends, but we have no telescope that enables us to visualise what will happen tomorrow, let alone in ten or twenty years.

What we do have, however, is another instrument which, while unable to foresee the future, can do much to prepare us for it.  That instrument is education – a particular kind of education:  the kind that doesn’t train you for a static job, but equips you for a dynamic life.

Jobs will come and go – even more rapidly in the future than in the past.  Thus, to thrive in the world of tomorrow, you need an education that enables you to acquire new knowledge and new skills, to stay abreast of social, economic and environmental developments, and to be nimble and adaptive in the face of change.   

That’s the kind of education SFU specializes in delivering.  We embody the philosophy expressed by American psychologist Carl Rogers when he observed that: “The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.”

That’s why your professors pressed you to think critically and creatively.  That’s why they insisted that you learn to study and research for yourselves.  That’s why they stressed experiential learning and community engagement.

We have strived in every way to provide you with the knowledge, the research capabilities, the practical skills, and the global awareness to get you – not just “job ready” – but “life-ready.”  That is SFU’s magic!

This does not mean, however, that our commitment to you ends today.  Even with the capacities you have gained here, you may need to come back from time to time – to take a new course or simply to seek advice from a favourite faculty member.  Or you may return to learn something completely different, to launch yourself in an entirely new direction.

Should those occasions arise, we’ll be here for you.  You will always be able to count on us as your education provider, your guide – your lifelong partner in learning.

Just as you will continue to need us, we will need you.  I ask you to stay involved, to work with other alumni to help build our future, and to deepen and strengthen our community ties.

Our graduates are the greatest expression of our success, and I would like to thank you for your efforts and commitment, for your spirit and your intelligence – for the inspiration that you have brought to the university, to your classmates and to the communities with which we are all engaged.

I also want to thank your parents, grandparents, partners, children, and all of your family and friends, who helped bring you to this moment.  Today, you should be as grateful to them as they are proud of you.

And we are proud of you too – proud to have had you as students, proud to claim you as alumni, and proud to unleash your talents upon the world.

On SFU’s crest are written the words: “nous sommes prêts” – we are ready.  As president of this great institution, I can now affirm, formally and officially: “vous êtes prêt” – you are ready!

From this moment forward, the magic is all yours!