Convocation Address, June 2016

June 07, 2016

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.

There is nothing more gratifying – or inspiring – than to look upon the promise of a graduating class ... and to welcome, as co-celebrants, the friends and family who have been so important in bringing you to this day.

Especially in this, our 50th Anniversary year – a year in which we celebrate five decades of SFU graduates.

This university, like you, has reached a milestone in an important educational journey …

… from our early restive years as a “radical campus”  … to an institution now known as Canada’s “engaged university.”

… from being dismissed in 1965 as an academic upstart … to being acclaimed today as this country’s top comprehensive university.

And ALL OF YOU share in that success.

By that, I don’t just mean that you are the beneficiaries of having studied at one of Canada’s best universities.

And I don’t just mean that you are fortunate to have third-party validation for the quality of your educational experience … though that may prove helpful as you pursue your next challenge … whether it’s an employment opportunity or a further academic qualification.

Rather I mean that you are valued members of the SFU community.  Today you join over 140,000 SFU alumni who have shaped our past and are standard bearers for our future.

One of the key determinants of a university’s greatness is the quality of its student body.

It’s self-fulfilling:  a university that attracts excellent students forms a learning community that drives and demands excellence at every turn.

SFU’s success has been built with the help of tens of thousands of students.  You have added to their contributions, even as you have benefited from their legacy.

You’ve provoked and inspired.  You’ve brought energy and ideas – lots of ideas that have enabled us to be better and challenged us to do more.

This university has been motivated and strengthened by your enthusiasm and ambitions.  Thanks to you, we have risen to new heights.

And in the process, you too have risen to new heights.

The knowledge and skills – the experiences and insights – that you have acquired here have elevated and empowered you.

I have witnessed first-hand and heard from others what you have given and gained both inside and outside the classroom.

But the contributions of SFU students to this university don’t end upon graduation.

SFU is revered at home and respected around the world for the record and reputation of its alumni.

SFU alumni distinguish themselves – and this university – not only by the success they enjoy in their own lives, but also by the positive impact they have on the lives of others.

Nowhere is SFU’s commitment to engagement better reflected than in the contributions our alumni make in areas such as social justice, economic development, environmental sustainability and cultural enrichment.         

And that’s another reason why this convocation is cause for celebration.

Because, as you cross this stage, you add to the ranks of SFU’s most effective emissaries and most influential ambassadors.

Today you celebrate – as well you should.  You’ve reached your educational goal and you deserve to revel in all that you have accomplished.

But tomorrow?  Tomorrow, I urge you to embrace a new responsibility … to engage this splendid and battered world, and to use the education you’ve gained here to make it better.

I recognize that’s a tall order.  Looking at the important issues that confront us, it’s clear that many are beyond the capacity of any one individual to solve.

But that does not relieve you of responsibility to play your part.

In this regard, I commend to you the following words of author and historian Edward Everett Hale:

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

That, then, is your challenge.  To do what you can – knowing that you are not alone … and that if each of you act in this spirit, together you can change the world.

Some days those actions may take the form of small gestures – the steps you take to strengthen your community … to volunteer, to vote, to be good citizens.

But other days, you may find opportunities to accomplish something bigger.

Consider the example of another SFU student, Terry Fox, whose single-minded determination to embark upon a Marathon of Hope inspired a country to join his campaign against cancer … a campaign that survived his untimely death and has since raised hundreds of millions of dollars to save the lives of others.

All this because one individual decided to do what he could.

So do what you can do. And 50 years from now, SFU will have that much more to celebrate.

In the meantime, I encourage you to stay engaged with us.

Degree in hand, you are still just beginning your educational journey, and this university will always be here for you.

As you continue, I wish you happiness and success in all your future endeavours.

In the words of an old Irish proverb, “May the road rise up to meet you; and may the wind always be at your back.”

Congratulations and good luck.