Convocation Address, June 2012

June 15, 2012

Professor Andrew Petter
President and Vice-Chancellor
Simon Fraser University

Madam Chancellor, honoured guests, members of the Board of Governors and Senate, faculty members, staff … and, most especially, graduands, families and friends.

It is my privilege, and my great pleasure, to preside at this celebration of your success – this culminating event of your education at Simon Fraser University.

In recent months, SFU has embraced a vision for itself as an “engaged university”:

  • a university that encourages students to become engaged learners;
  • a university that enables researchers to mobilize their knowledge; and, more broadly,
  • a university that utilizes all of its capacities to enhance the social, economic, and environmental well-being of the communities it serves, locally and globally.

There is, however, an even more important means by which an “engaged university” benefits society.  And that is by instilling the value of “engagement” in its alumni.

Put simply, the best hope for ensuring that this university contributes to a richer, more just and sustainable world is YOU.

Today, we take great pride in your accomplishments and successes at SFU.  We also hold out great hope for what you will achieve in your lives beyond this university.

By drawing upon the knowledge, capacities and skills that you have gained here, you have the opportunity to better yourselves:  that’s the dividend of any good university education.

However, by going further – by become “engaged citizens” – you have the added opportunity of harnessing those same aptitudes to advance the condition of others.

That’s good news:  for as much as we derive happiness from improving our own place in society, there is no greater gratification than that gained from helping to improve the lives of others.

I commend to you the example of legions of SFU graduates who have gone before you – people who have approached the notion of “community service” from every direction.

We are, perhaps, too inclined to think of community service narrowly – as public service in the political arena.  And SFU has certainly done its part in that category – educating four of the last five premiers of this province.

But there are so many other ways to serve – in fact, as many ways as there are vocations  … or graduates.

Consider the example of our former Chancellor, the late Milton Wong, who made his reputation and fortune in business, and then turned both to the challenge of promoting Aboriginal justice and fostering multicultural understanding.

Consider Jennifer Simons, an educator who has dedicated herself to creating a safer world through education in peace, disarmament, international law and human security.

Consider James Pau, a healthcare practitioner in nursing and traditional Chinese medicine who has made it his mission to fight for the rights of immigrants and the downtrodden in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

And consider Norman Armour, the impresario behind the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, who has brought provocative, entertaining theatre to so many – and demonstrated the value of the arts in community building.

These are just a few of SFU’s outstanding alumni.  And they would tell you, as they have told me, that as much as they have given to society, they have gained more back from knowing that their lives have made a positive difference. 

Today, you join their ranks as SFU alumni.  You have proved yourselves worthy, and we are both proud of you and enthused about your futures.

Today is a day to reflect on all that you have accomplished, and hold high your laurels.

It is a day to say thank you – to your classmates, your teachers and, especially, to those family members and friends who have helped you to achieve your success … and have come to celebrate it with you.

But today is also a day to look forward and contemplate your futures.  In doing so, please know that SFU will always be here for you.  As you “engage the world,” we hope that you will continue to engage with us; that you will cherish and take advantage of your status as SFU alumni.

The great American educator, Horace Mann, once said, “A different world cannot be built by indifferent people.”

I see no indifference here.  Rather, I see the engaged graduands of an engaged university … whose talents, energies and commitments give me confidence that a different – and better – world is well within in our grasp.