Convocation Address, October 2019

October 11, 2019

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.

As this ceremony unfolds, our message to you is clear.  As each of you receives your degree, I and the entire university community want you to know how proud we are of you.

We have seen your work. We have admired your performance.

Your degrees are not merely documents of accreditation. They are living testament to the faith we have in your ability to flourish in a dynamic world.

They are also a reflection of the institution you chose – one whose vision it is to be Canada’s engaged university.

That focus on engagement has provided you an enriched and relevant educational environment. 

One that has not only equipped you with disciplinary knowledge and critical thinking abilities, but has also enabled you to gain workplace experience, community insight and global awareness.  

These are the aptitudes required to climb your “first mountain.”

I am not talking here about Burnaby Mountain – another peak you’ve learned to scale as part of your SFU education.  

I’m referring to the “first mountain” as described by New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Brooks is the author of a new book, entitled The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life.

Having established himself as a celebrated writer and popular media commentator, Brooks reached the pinnacle of the first mountain, which he describes as the place you go to pursue material gain, to seek public recognition and, if all goes well, to find happiness.

But SFU’s vision – and my ambition for you – is directed to much more than the individual success associated with accumulating wealth, gaining social standing and pursuing a profitable career.  

My hope, and that of this university, is that your SFU education will also prepare you to scale what David Brooks calls the “second mountain” – the place you go to contribute to the well-being of others.

In Brooks’ words, the second mountain is where you are driven by the desires of your heart and soul, not by the demands of your ego.

Success on the second mountain is about collective welfare rather than individual advantage.

In a variation on the theme of engagement, Brooks says that this second quest is about interdependence, rather than independence.

It involves attending to the needs both of individuals and of the community.

And here’s the wonderful thing:  The second mountain is where you attain what Brooks calls “joy” – a state more rewarding and resilient than happiness.

I recently heard Brooks interviewed about the book, and about his own personal journey, and I was immediately drawn to his vision of a second mountain, because it resonates so strongly with my own experience, and with what this university is all about:

A belief that the true measure of our success as human beings is not how much better we make life for ourselves, but how much better we make it for others.

Like Brooks, I recommend to you the rewards that come from building a better world.

They far exceed those that accompany personal ambition and self-aggrandizement.   

Individual accomplishments can be gratifying, but the sense of efficacy and attainment to be gained from helping others and enriching communities delivers much greater satisfaction and fulfilment.

So here, today, I hope you revel in your achievements to date.

As you stand on this mountain, you have every right to bask in the happiness you have earned – and share that delight with your colleagues, friends and family.

Bravo for having made it this far up your first mountain. It is a critical foundation for what lies ahead.

But when the excitement of today’s festivities begins to wane, I commend you to that second climb.

There’s joy aplenty to be found there … in a world that is in need of your commitment, your energy and your leadership.

And whatever mountains confront you, you can take comfort in the knowledge that you needn’t make that climb alone.

The relationships you have formed here – with friends and colleagues … with faculty and mentors – will serve you better than any single lesson.

Today, you take your place among a global network of over 160,000 SFU alumni in more than 140 countries – supported by an association that is there to assist and connect you.

And, while this phase of your education is complete, continued success in this ever-changing and challenging world will depend upon your commitment to lifelong learning.

In that regard, SFU will always be here for you when you need help.

For now: this is your time. Enjoy it, and use it wisely.

Share it generously with those you love and just as generously with those who don’t have your advantages.

Knowing that it is on that second mountain that you will make your greatest contributions and find your greatest joy.

Congratulations all.