Address by Prime Minister Trudeau at the University of Ottawa Convocation Ceremony
June 19, 2017
Thank you, President Frémont, for the warm welcome. The experience you have shown in carrying out your duties over the last year, from human rights to governance and democracy, as well as your lifelong commitment to learning, have been of great service to the University and, by extension, to all of Canada. Thank you for your leadership.
I would first like to acknowledge that this is Algonquin Nation territory. Chancellor Rovinescu, Chair Giroux, vice chairs, members of the University’s Board of Governors and Senate, deans, Dany Laferrière and other distinguished guests, the professors, family and friends, and of course the graduates of 2017.
Congratulations to you all and thank you for letting me be a part of this big day. I’m sure the older people in this room can attest it’s hard to come to an event like this and not feel a little bit nostalgic, to think back on our own youthful experiences. And, yes, I put myself squarely in that ‘older people’ category, just so we’re clear.
It was 23 years ago that I graduated from McGill with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. And to the lit grads here, take it from Dany, take it from me, whatever you want to do with your life, the future is wide open, whether you want to become a global literary giant, or work for the government, you can dream to do whatever you want.
It was only 23 years ago, but it might have well been the middle of the last century when you think about how much has changed since then. Google didn’t exist. We had microfilm readers and card catalogues. If you’d asked me then what social media was, I’d have guessed it had something to do with either a wine and cheese with journalism students or just watching TV with friends in a public place. Nobody had a cellphone. There were a few car phones, but a call was like 100 bucks a minute.
My cohort was the first to use email. I still remember a long conversation with a friend, and I just could not understand how she could send a message to her sister, who was attending school in Italy, completely free. Now, when I think about that conversation, I clearly didn’t understand the concept of instantaneous. And if my memory is correct, my first email address had so many numbers and letters, and it took me a month to send a message because I didn’t know anyone else who had email.
Back in 1994, we could barely imagine what the world would look like in 2017 – just as you may have trouble imagining what the world will be like in 2040. The pace of change has never been so fast, and yet it’ll never be this slow again.
The pace of change has never been so fast and yet it’ll never be this slow again. It’s hard to imagine what the future might hold. But that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for it. How do you do that?
Well, it starts by understanding that today is in no way the end of your education but the beginning of a lifetime of learning for which you will be almost entirely responsible and in charge. Developing flexibility, critical thinking, self-knowledge and confidence will be essential. You can also prepare by accepting that you’re likely to have not just a few different jobs over your working life, but a few different careers. Some will be great, some will suck. But all represent a challenge that will shape and strengthen you as a person if you let them.
Also, you need to allow yourself time. Time to figure out what your passion is. Time to make mistakes and dive headlong into dead-end choices and come back out. Time to speed up and bear down when you need to grind through, and time to live it up and slow down when you need to start a family, connect with friends, or just re-discover play and joy. But mostly, you need to remember what matters.
You see, human beings are social animals. With very few exceptions, we each define ourselves in relation to others. We have an engrained need for relevance. We need to be pertinent to our community. We need to matter to our tribe, however we define that tribe to be. And while the accumulation of material goods or authority or prestige can serve as indicators of success, they are not of themselves success. And you can’t fool yourself. Deep down you will measure yourself and your success, not by what you have gotten from the world, but why what you have to give it.
But your generation already knows that. As a teacher, as a youth, an environment advocate, as a young parliamentarian with the Youth Critic portfolio and now as Canada’s Minister for Youth, I’ve had thousands of great conversations with young Canadians like you. And it’s clear to me that you are the most engaged, informed, empowered generation that has ever lived. I know that those moments, when you feel cynical or apathetic come not from not caring about the world but from its opposite, from being frustrated at feeling that you don’t yet have the tools to fully shape this world that you care so deeply about. But be patient with yourselves because then you may notice that you are already having a real and massive impact for the better on this world, especially here in Canada where you are defining the big things.
Through your voices, choices and actions, you are building a country that works for everyone. An inclusive country where everyone feels welcomed, appreciated and liked, whether you were born in Alexandria or Aleppo; where differences in culture, language, sexual orientation, religion and physical or mental ability enrich our lives. A country where diversity is a strength, not a weakness. An innovative country where people get the education they need to bring new ideas to life, and where they are ready to use what they have learned. A country where you don’t have to choose between what is good for the environment and what’s good for the economy, because all of you understand that they have to go together. A country that recognizes the errors of the past and works hard for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. A country that shares its solutions with the world, that provides assistance when needed, with courage but without needing to draw attention to itself. A country where everyone has a real and equal chance to succeed. That is the future you have told me about over the years. That is the future that we are helping to build every day.
Now, as new graduates, I know that much of your focus is wrapped up in more immediate concerns like finding a good job that’s both challenging and rewarding, or figuring out how to balance paying your rent, of paying down your student loans. But I know because I’ve heard it repeatedly from so many of you that your concerns go far beyond your own circumstances. As a prime minister, as a teacher, as a father myself, I can’t begin to tell you how reassuring that is. I look at the really big challenges like climate change, or that gap that exists between the quality of life for indigenous peoples and the rest of the population. I think about what it means for all of us that too many folks out there still seem willing, happy even, to build their personal success through stoking fears and anxieties. I think of all that is tempting, I think of all that and it’s tempting to give in to cynicism and doubt. But there’s a very powerful antidote to all that. And it’s you.
I know you have the skills and the determination to solve each and every problem you will face, we will face, because the future holds huge challenges for us, but not so big as the many obstacles that we have already overcome, and certainly not for a generation as intelligent, ambitious and prepared as yours.
Now...now that you’re feeling good about yourself, let’s talk about what it really means to do hard things. When he was President, my friend Barack Obama used to have a plaque on his desk. Actually, maybe he still does – I hope he still does. It said, “Hard things are hard.” There’s a lot of truth in those four words. Focusing on the big things and not the small things, that’s not easy for anyone. But when we do it, we can make really big, really important things happen.
Today, nearly nine million Canadians bring home more money in their pay cheques, because together, Canadians chose a government that has lowered taxes for the middle class by increasing taxes for the richest. That’s a big thing.
Today, nine out of ten families have extra help with the high cost of raising their kids because together, Canadians decided that maybe sending child benefit cheques to millionaires wasn’t such a great idea. That’s a big thing, too. In the coming years, sitting in those chairs you currently occupy will be some of the 300,000 kids that extra help lifted out of poverty this year as compared to 2014. In fact, 300,000 children would fill this room 250 times over. That is a very big thing, too. And a hard thing.
So, when you look ahead to the months and years to come, I encourage you to be ambitious. Think about what you can do to build a better world than the one left to you by your own parents. Your parents, your grandparents and your loved ones who are here today wish nothing less for you. Go out and discover the world. Know that the education you just received has prepared you well. Have faith in your ability to face the hardest and most complex challenges of our time, because very soon, it will be up to you to tackle them.
Class of 2017, I have faith in you. We, your teachers, your family and your friends, have faith in you. The world expects much of you and you are, every one of you, up to the challenge. I wish you the very best of luck.
Thank you again for allowing me to be a part of this momentous day. Congratulations once again. Now, go do great things.