Convocation Address, June 2015

June 09, 2015

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, especially, graduands, family and friends:

It is my privilege to preside at this culminating celebration of your education at Simon Fraser University.

Convocation is one of life’s great milestones.

It’s a time to take stock of your hard work, to celebrate your accomplishments, and to look to the future with hope and optimism.

It’s also a time when your professors, your parents and your friends can publicly rejoice in your success, perhaps while privately breathing a sigh of relief.

You did it … was there ever any doubt?

Convocation is, as well, a momentous occasion for SFU, particularly in this our 50th year.

And as we prepare to celebrate half a century of education and achievement – by faculty, staff and, most notably, by five decades of SFU students – three thoughts come to mind.

First, there is the inspiration that went into founding this university those many years ago.

Second, there is the good judgment you exercised, both in recognizing the importance of gaining a university education, and then in choosing to come to this remarkable institution.

And third, there is the extraordinary value that your university education will hold for you in the years to come – and the contribution that it empowers you to make to a world so much in need of your talents and your energies.

Starting with the founding of SFU:  In 1965, British Columbia was a prosperous province with a rich resource base.  

It would not have been surprising in those circumstances if the leaders of the day had decided to rest on their laurels.

But then-Premier W.A.C. Bennett, SFU’s first Chancellor Gordon Shrum, and a clutch of others recognized how quickly the world was changing, and how heavily a modern economy and an increasingly complex society would depend upon a better-educated populace.

That insight led to the founding of SFU, an instant university that quickly became known as a Radical Campus, populated by an enthusiastic band of faculty and students who, from the very beginning, were not content to confine themselves to this mountaintop.

It seems they were determined, even then, to lay the foundation for what we have since become – Canada’s most community-engaged research university.

That is the institution you chose – one where you could learn and hone high-value skills that include critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and working with others.

It’s also one where many of you have enjoyed co-op and other experiential learning opportunities, and where you have acquired and practiced research skills that will serve you well in today’s ever-changing society.

The value of university education is no secret.  Over 70 per cent of new jobs today require a university degree, and that number is forecast to rise to almost 80 per cent over the next 15 years.

No wonder, then, that university graduates enjoy significantly lower unemployment rates and substantially higher incomes than those in every other category.

The capacities and skills you’ve gained here are precisely those needed to adapt and thrive in a labour market in which many of tomorrow’s jobs don’t exist today, and many of today’s job won’t exist tomorrow.

Thanks to your university education, you have what it takes to succeed.

But there’s a caveat.  Good news frequently comes with a proviso – a condition that must be met before you can claim the prize.

And here it is:  Your well-being is connected to the well-being of those around you.  

Happiness is more than material success.  And it’s more than individual achievement – as important as that is.

Rather, we know from moral philosophy, from human experience, and now from empirical research that our happiness depends upon having strong social relations, being connected to our community, and living in a society in which we care for one another.

Remember that.  Remember that success for the few translates into happiness only when it is tied to stability and well-being for the many.

So, as we send you into the world today – as you take your leave from being engaged students – I urge you to take up the challenge of being engaged citizens, committed to giving as good as you get, to serving, to volunteering, to voting and to speaking up whenever and wherever you can to contribute to building a better society.

I also hope that you will remember us – that as you join a network of more than 130,000 alumni, you will stay connected, and that you will continue to look to SFU as a source of support, and a place to gain additional knowledge and skills.

In the meantime, bravo!  You have laboured hard to earn the degrees that you are about to receive, and it is an honour and a pleasure to recognize your achievements.

My best to you today.  And good luck in what I hope will be a lifetime of success, of service … and, yes, of happiness.