Convocation Address, October 2015

October 08, 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, most especially, graduands, family and friends:

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

This is always a sweet moment – an occasion to recognize and honour the achievements of a graduating class.  But it’s particularly sweet in this SFU’s 50th Anniversary year.

People celebrate birthdays, I believe, because – even as they accumulate – they affirm our continued existence.

As French actor Maurice Chevalier once observed, “Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.”

Anniversaries tend to be more reflective, inviting us to look back at the highlights and accomplishments of a lifetime.

That’s an interesting notion – a lifetime. The word is freighted with meaning, yet the concept is entirely elastic – defined both by the length and expectancy of the life in question.

For most of you graduating today, 50 years likely sounds like a long time. In the lifetime of a university, however, it’s barely a blink.

All the more remarkable, then, that SFU has grown in that period from being regarded initially as a rebellious upstart to being recognized today as Canada’s top-ranked comprehensive university.

We burst onto the scene in the 1960s as the “radical campus,” an engine of activism that has transformed itself over the years into a vehicle for “engagement.”

You may have heard me mention that word “engagement” a few times before.

It’s central to SFU’s vision – to be Canada’s “engaged university defined by its dynamic integration of innovative education, cutting-edge research and far-reaching community engagement.”

It’s a vision that draws on 50 years of progress. We’ve reached out over those five decades, creating new campuses in Vancouver and Surrey, and drawing the community of Burnaby closer to us with the development of UniverCity.

Building on a foundation of fundamental research, we’ve become a world leader in knowledge mobilization, leveraging our discoveries and innovations for economic, environmental and social betterment.

And we have worked to equip you, our students, with the knowledge, skills, and experiences you require to succeed in an ever-changing and challenging world.

Which brings me to the best part of this 50th anniversary convocation: the lifetimes and achievements we most celebrate today are yours.

Today you join a network of more than 130,000 SFU alumni.

Today, you step from this engaged university into a world that needs you.

With the degrees SFU confers, we say, formally and officially, that we are proud of you. More than that, we say that we are confident in your capacities to contribute the ideas, the energies and the talents that the world requires.

For it is the difference you make as engaged citizens that is the best expression of this university’s commitment to engage the world.  

Now, there are some other lifetime achievements that I hope you’ll join me in recognizing today.

To parents, the graduation of a son or daughter represents one of the most fulfilling accomplishments of any good lifetime.

I know this personally. I have watched, proudly, as my son accepted undergraduate and graduate degrees, and I can tell you that, while the effort and credit were his – the excitement and gratification were gloriously, if not equally, mine.

So, I hope you appreciate the pride and joy that your graduation brings to those who have worked so hard to help you make this day possible.

Parents, mentors, family and friends – in addition to thanking them for their support, I hope you welcome them generously into your celebration.

And whatever you do with your degree – however far you ultimately go – I hope that you will also stay engaged with SFU and with each other.

I encourage you to come back to this university any time you seek new knowledge or just to pay us a visit and say hello.

We will be here, always – happy to see you and eager to help.

For now, bravo! The honour you receive today was 50 years in the making.  I urge you to make the most of it.  

Congratulations and godspeed.