Speech: Convocation Address Fall 2019 - Global Citizenship

Thank you, Dr. Butler.

Class of 2019:

Congratulations to each and every one of you – and to your friends and family who are here today or watching via live stream. 

We are so proud of you. And we’re confident that you have gained essential skills, knowledge and experience that you will continue to build on, as you go out into the world as Saint Mary’s alumni.

I want you to look around and see what I see, and what I know -- all of you graduating here today are global citizens. That is no small thing… and it is something that every Saint Mary’s graduate can and should claim.

You share common values, values such as academic excellence, respect for diversity, inclusion, and ethical wisdom. And now, you are part of a worldwide network of alumni numbering more than 51,000 stretching across 115 countries.

As such, you are part of Canada’s next generation and indeed the world’s next generation of global citizens. What does that mean?

In the fourth century BC, when Greek sage and philosopher Diogenes was asked where he was from, he answered, “Kosmopolites -- I am a citizen of the world.”

In 2019, we have contemporaries to emulate who build on the words of Diogenes. Barack Obama comes to mind as a politician who inspired beyond his borders, tackling health care inequality at home and the Ebola crisis in Africa.

Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish environmental activist, is crossing oceans and continents, questioning norms and calling for action on climate change.

It would be easy to be pessimistic in the face of large challenges such as the climate crisis, unprecedented migrations of refugees seeking shelter from violent conflict, and new forms of transmissible disease.

It also would be understandable if we are discouraged as some countries and some leaders turn away from or deny these challenges. Some of these leaders sound divisive and act as isolationists as they put up barriers for change, not break them down.

We can argue and, I think, agree that the world needs more people like Barack Obama and more people like Greta Thunberg who identify and act as global citizens. We need more people like you, our Saint Mary’s graduates.

Indeed, the United Nations recognizes this. Its education arm UNESCO is calling on universities and schools to turn out the citizens who are needed for this 21st century, that is global citizens, aspiring citizens of the world, just as the vision statement for Saint Mary’s says.

I would argue that all of you who have studied in our classrooms and laboratories, walked our campus pathways, formed bonds and friendships here at Saint Mary’s – carry the mindsets of citizens of the world.

Your studies in Business, Science and the Arts have developed the essential skills, attitudes, curiosities and thoughtfulness required to challenge norms, to question, to interrogate and to bring about change.

Saint Mary’s has helped prepare you. It has taught you about diversity, about respect, about thriving in a community that looks and feels and thinks and acts globally.

Perhaps you have studied experimental chemistry and developed new organic and safe substitutes, replacing toxic, harmful compounds, thus protecting people and the environment.

Perhaps you have participated in a student competition and created a new business, allowing youth at risk and youth with disabilities to gain meaningful employment.

Perhaps, when you traveled to Cuba to unearth an old slave plantation, you worked alongside and included local Cubans in the hands-on research.

Perhaps you participated in a service-learning experience with one of our 65 community partners, right here in Halifax.

Perhaps you have delved into perspectives from varying world religions in order to foster a new understanding of tolerance of difference in our society.

Now, here’s the other thing I need to say. As President of a growing university with a deep sense of community, I have had the privilege of meeting many of you personally over the last years and months.

Every day I witness first-hand your energy, your curiosity, your compassion, your capacity for growth, and your immense potential.

I am excited that you are now bringing your skills to society and the globe at large. In a time fraught with big challenges and the politics of division, the world needs the compassion, the leadership, and the sense of citizenship that each of you can bring…no matter where you go, or what your future holds.

As Santamarians, you carry the responsibility of influencing business, science, engineering, technology, arts, culture, economics, society and politics.

And influencing them for the better.

Because of your importance to the future of Canada and the planet, I urge you to go forward from today and deploy that distinctive global citizenship and bring it to the world.

Class of 2019, on this special day, we are so very proud of you and of what you have achieved. No matter where you go, you will always have a home at Saint Mary’s.

Age quod agis.