Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, UBC Vancouver Campus, Musqueam Traditional Territory
Give thanks, spiritual and temporal, for the manifold blessings we share in this wonderful world, this great nation, this beautiful province, this splendid university. And to recognize that UBC is located on the traditional, ancestral, unseeded territory of the Musqueam people. We give thanks for these proud students, their even prouder families and friends, on this most happy and joyous of occasions. Please be seated.
Chancellor Gordon, honoured guests, members of the Board of Governors, senators, members of the faculty, staff, and alumni of the university. And most especially you, the graduates, family, and friends, welcome to the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at the University of British Columbia. What an honor it is for all of us to be here with you today to celebrate UBC’s newest graduating class, the Class of 2018. Let’s hear it for them.
We can tell you that this is a day that we’ve been waiting for all academic year. A chance to recognize you for all of your accomplishments, to recognize your friends and families, for being with you every step of the day. This day is all about you and what you have achieved through hard work and determination. It’s a recognition of not only what you’ve done at UBC, but everything that you’ve done along the way, at different chapters of your life. Graduation is a time to imagine your future and the world ahead. And when you actually travel that road, we hope that you will gain perspective and wisdom by looking back to where you’ve been. And we hope that when you do look back at your time at UBC, that you will do so with fondness. And that when you look ahead, you will see UBC very much part of your future. You will always be welcome here, and we look forward to hearing from you and about your personal and professional achievements as you build upon the foundation provided to you not only by your degree, but by the totality of the experience that you have had here.
We also hope to continue to engage with you as alumni as you travel forward to new adventures, to new corners of the globe. One of the great privileges that I had as president and vice-chancellor of this institution is to remain in contact with alumni. And I can tell you it brings us great joy to continue to interact with you in the months and years following your graduation. As you begin a new stage in your life and experience, you can be confident that we as an institution have absolute confidence that you can and will continue to excel. Because if you look at the track record of the alumni who have preceded you, they excel in almost every field of human endeavor. They are very present here in the City of Vancouver, across the province of British Columbia, but also around the world. You have proven while you’re here that not only do you have the knowledge and skill, but also the grit and resolve to persevere and to succeed in a challenging and rigorous curriculum.
It has addressed the first graduating class of this university in 1916, UBC’s very first President and Vice-Chancellor Frank Wesbrook encouraged students to make our world a better place to live. And he encouraged them to think beyond themselves. He encouraged them to think about people further away, people less privileged, people that they might not even meet during their time on planet Earth. Today, 102 years later we echo those remarks and we have the same charge for you because we know that you have the same kind of skill, the same kind of passion, the same kind of ability to leave a legacy because of who you are and because of what you do.
There’s one more thing that we’d like to say to you as a group, and that is a graduation is not about goodbye. You may never take a class again here, you may move on to different things in different cities, but graduation is about au revoir, until we meet again. I’m sure that very high on your list, if not at the very top of your list, when asked, “What will you remember most about your time at UBC?” that it’s very likely that your relationship with your friends, with your faculty members and staff here. Those human relationships are going to be among your most dearest and most fondest memories. And we ask you to work, to retain those relationships, to remain engaged with the friends that you’ve made here, yes, with the faculty members and staff here. We want to continue that relationship. And as you advance through your life – and I’m sure your parents and grandparents will agree – it’s those relationships that truly matter. It’s those relationships that as you advance through life you will recognize are profoundly important because you spent time at the same place at the same time. And that defines who you are as individuals but also as a generation.
You are incredibly intelligent and gifted individuals. You’re applied scientists and engineers. You have the tools and capability to make the world a better place. You’ll make better bridges, better buildings, safer places in which civilization will work and play. And we are grateful for that. You’ve done so while you’re here. And you’ve seen your faculty members excel in finding new ways to confront seismic challenges, for example. The progress that technology and innovation has achieved over the past century has been truly remarkable. And we believe that the next century will be just as remarkable. But there’s one thing that I ask you to remember, despite all of the amazing advances that progress made– and it is indisputable that millions and soon billions of lives will be saved due to advances in engineering. As I said our buildings and bridges will be safer and other colleagues of yours and other branches of applied science will create biomedical devices and prosthetics. It will provide for a longer life and a better quality of life, and people around you, including myself, as I age, will most certainly benefit from your innovations. Enjoy the ride. I can’t wait to see the contributions that you make to society.
But as enablers of the world of the future, be mindful of the world that you create, be mindful of the lens through which the next generation views the world because they will look up to you, and they will follow your lead. Life and civilization, as interesting as it might be, are not a video game. They’re profoundly more significant, and whatever we do as applied scientists – and I am one, a biomedical scientist – we should never cheapen or minimize human creativity as a casualty of machine learning or technology, and we should be mindful of a tendency towards isolation and being all-consumed by our ability to escape into a world of virtual or augmented reality. No doubt those capabilities are fascinating, and they help individuals learn complicated procedures such as surgery, or how to navigate land mines, or how to identify precious metals. All of these things are remarkable but let us never forget that as wonderful as virtual and augmented reality is, it is a poor substitute from reality. There is nothing that substitutes from the beauty and the privilege of human relationships. And as you create the future, don’t forget the fundamental values that you have lived here in your lives through your choices that you have witnessed and been inspired by the actions of your professors. Always embrace diversity in every sense of the word. It makes for better teams. It makes for better decisions. It makes most importantly for a better and more peaceful world.
And as you ponder what you will do in both small and large decisions, moving into the future, you will be faced with decisions that will test your mettle as a human being and citizen. I ask to do one thing, fast forward to the end of your life, hypothetically, and ask yourself one simple question, it’s a question that my friend and classmate at the University of Chicago, David Brooks, wrote a book about. What will people say at your eulogy? You see, at that point, it’s not about how high your GPA was in Applied Science at the University of British Columbia. No one will care. It’s not about how long your LinkedIn profile might be, exactly what you did. No one will care. You see, eulogies are about the impact that your life has had, about an honest assessment of how you have transformed the world by the actions that you have taken, large and small. Some of it will be about the impact that you’ve had on those around you, your family and your friends, through devotion to them and dedication to them. And some of your eulogy will be about what you have done in your workplace, or to a field. The legacy that you leave to the next generation. You see, eulogies are not about exactly what you did, or even about what you might have said. Eulogies are, as Maya Angelou said, about how you made people feel. Always be mindful about how you make people feel.
As you move through life, remember more than what you learned in the classroom and the laboratory – see, that’s what I call the education of the mind – remember the values that you’ve learned from each other and from your professors. Remember them when you make difficult decisions and always think about how it might impact on someone else. Perhaps someone far, far away. I ask you not only to remember the education of the mind that you’ve received here, but what I call the education of the heart. An illustration of how you use your knowledge in a heartful way, to love one another, the education of the heart. Remember this one last thing: remember that knowledge is in the head, but true wisdom is in the heart. Always follow your heart. It’s up to you.
Congratulations to the Class of 2018.