Convocation Hall 100th Anniversary
May 31, 2007
Good afternoon faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of the University of Toronto. May I also extend a special welcome to today’s special graduating class, and to all of your friends and family members.
Although it is a University of Toronto tradition that we acknowledge the Chancellor’s and Academic Processions at the end of the convocation, I think today is a good day to do things a little bit differently. And while I recognize that naming only a few members of the processions requires that I leave some individuals out, I would like to extend my personal thanks to the members of:
The Chancellor’s Procession, including:
- The Honourable Hal Jackman, former Lieutenant Governor and Chancellor of the University, who served as Bedel.
- Mr. Brian Burchell, past president of the UTAA and manager of the CIUT radio station, and
- University Professor Janice Stein who directs the Munk Centre for International Studies.
Members of the Academic Procession include many of the University’s most distinguished faculty and administrators, including:
- alumnus Dr Ken Taylor, former Canadian Ambassador to Iran and Chancellor of Victoria University in the University of Toronto;
- Past Chair of Governing Council Dr Tom Simpson
- University Chancellor Emerita Rose Wolfe who also serves as Distinguished Academic Visitor to University College;
- Victoria University President Paul Gooch;
- President & Vice-Chancellor, University of St. Michael’s College Richard Alway;
- President Emeritus Prof. George Connell;
- and an individual who has served his University as Dean of Law, Provost, and Interim President, the Honourable Frank Iacobucci.
Thank you all for your continued dedication to our University.
As an institution with a 180-year history, we have had a few decades to put up some magnificent buildings. On this campus, among others, we have majestic University College dating back to the 1850s. And we have the stunning Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research and the Leslie Dan Pharmacy Building, both of which opened about 150 years after University College was completed.
That said, I believe one building, above all, has a unique meaning to our alumni, regardless of faculty, college or campus of origin: Convocation Hall.
This extraordinary Hall has seen tens of thousands of graduates come across its stage over the past hundred years. It has been a venue for lectures for countless thousands of students. Convocation Hall has seen fiery political speeches, been a set for movies and television shows, and served as a focal point for countless rallies and debates. Later, we’ll get to hear first-hand how wonderfully this hall serves as a concert venue, with a performance from a fabulously talented University of Toronto commerce student who is now a global figure in the world of jazz.
For now, let me simply say that Convocation Hall is clearly a site of historic importance not only to our university and city, but also to the country.
Since becoming President, I have tried to encourage all our students – from A to Z, from budding anthropologists to would-be zoologists – to make sure they leave the University with a sense of history. I believe it is important that our students acquire enough of an understanding of the past to recognize that, notwithstanding the pace of scientific and technological change, human nature remains wonderfully intransigent.
This afternoon, we can celebrate how far the University of Toronto has come over the past one hundred years. But I suggest that we might also acknowledge that the students of today are really not so different from the students of the 1940s, or even the 1840s.
Hairstyles and hemlines change. But our students are still deeply curious about the world around them. They still care passionately about the political and social issues that affect their lives. And I would like to think that, were they confronted with a grave crisis of the proportions that confronted the graduates we are honoring today, they too would step forward.
In that respect, I would note that the original plans called for Convocation hall to be erected in memory of our students who had fallen in the Fenian raids and in the Boer War. Somehow, it seems only fitting that, on this anniversary day, we hold a convocation ceremony to honour our students who were on active service during the Second World War.
I shall say more about that special group of alumni in a few minutes, but let me emphasize now that the very existence of Convocation Hall is entirely due to the support of our alumni who, one hundred years ago, raised the funds for this building.
Today, the University of Toronto Alumni Association remains dedicated to the preservation of the Hall, as they oversee a restoration project and have kicked off a major renewal drive.
I would like to thank the UTAA for their leadership donation in support of the restoration of Convocation Hall. I also want to thank the John A. Pollock Family Fund and the University’s current Chair of Governing Council, Ms. Rose Patten, for their outstanding commitment to this important project.
Against that background it is timely for me to introduce Mr Michael Deck, President of the University of Toronto Alumni Association. One of our tireless volunteers and a very distinguished alumnus, Michael was elected President of the UTAA last September. He has since led the Association’s efforts in, among many other things, the Convocation Hall renewal project. Michael …
Thank you Michael. It is now my privilege to introduce Professor Modris Eksteins to deliver a brief overview of Convocation Hall and its place within the history of the University of Toronto.
Professor Eksteins is a senior fellow at Massey College and a renowned author whose focus is the relationship between war and culture. He attended Trinity College at the University of Toronto, and then won a Rhodes Scholarship in 1965. Professor Eksteins spent five years at the University of Oxford, earning his DPhil in history. Since 1970, he has been a professor in the Department of Humanities at the University of Toronto at Scarborough. Modris…
Thank you, Modris …
We are very fortunate to have as our chancellor the Honourable David R. Peterson. Former Premier of the Province of Ontario, an alumnus of our law school, an individual who has earned national and international accolades for his leadership in politics and business, Chancellor Peterson has been serving his alma mater with tremendous dedication. I now invite Chancellor David Peterson to convene this convocation
Thank you, Chancellor
This is a very special moment in the life of our University. As you know, we are today welcoming back the veterans of the Second World War, who missed their convocation ceremony while on active service.
To the veterans, may I say what an honour it is for your University to recognize your academic accomplishments.
While you were serving your country, many of your friends and classmates were here graduating. You will know, far more keenly than any of us, that some of your classmates were lost in active service.
The Soldier’s Tower, in the northwest corner of Hart House Circle, keeps the memory of their sacrifice alive for today’s students, faculty and staff. It reminds us, as well, of the brave commitment to Canada shown by each and every one of you.
Now, more than sixty years after the end of the Second World War, your lives are rich with a huge range of other challenges surmounted. We are therefore here to celebrate not just your wartime service to your country, but also your decades as citizens, as parents and grandparents, as contributors to the fabric of our nation.
In 1942, President Henry John Cody spoke to a graduating class here in Convocation Hall at a time when the outcome of the war was not yet certain, and when worry about the future of our University and of our way of life was in doubt. He said:
“You will go into a grim world but at a great time. What the future holds for you none can tell. Your world will probably be a hard world, but you may take a share in making it a better world.” And he added: “Your Alma Mater can give you no guarantee of safety, but she can assure you of a great opportunity to help usher in a nobler age.”
It is far from clear that ours is a nobler age, but to the extent that our freedom was secured, that democracy was sustained, that a genocidal and racist ideology was suppressed, that a better world was made possible, each of us in this Hall and the hundreds of thousands of graduates of this University who have passed through this Hall since 1945, are indebted to the servicemen and servicewomen who, belatedly, are graduating today.
It is now my honour to call on Dr Wendy Cecil. Dr Cecil is a former Chair of our Governing Council, current Chair of the President’s International Alumni Council and the President’s Circle, an alumna, and an extraordinary citizen of her University. Dr Cecil will present the graduates.
Thank you to the members of the University of Toronto MacMillan Singers from the Faculty of Music …You were terrific.
I would now like to introduce one of our University’s truly amazing students.
Sophie Milman is a University of Toronto commerce student. She is a global citizen – born in Russia, raised in Israel and Canada. And, as many of you know, Sophie Milman is also an incredibly successful jazz singer. Her Juno-nominated debut album, “Sophie Milman,” was a top five hit in Canada and Japan, a top fifteen hit in the USA, and a number-one best-seller on iTunes in Canada, the USA, Japan, France, and Sweden. She has sold out venue after venue internationally over the last two years – sharing the stage with superstars such as Aaron Neville, Chick Corea, and Jesse Cook.
Sophie’s new album, “Make Someone Happy”, is set for release this June, for which she will embark on an international tour with stops in Canada, the U.S., Japan, China, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan, before returning home to complete her last semester at UofT.
Please join me in welcoming Ms Sophie Milman …
Thank you Sophie, that was terrific …
This concludes today’s celebration, and the formal distinction of 100 years of Convocation Hall.
Thank you to the speakers, the processional members, the veterans and your families, University of Toronto Organist, Prof. John Tuttle of the Faculty of Music, and everyone else for sharing this day with us. I encourage you to join us for a reception under the tent just west of Convocation Hall, adjoining St. George Street. This formally concludes the ceremony. Please rise for the singing of our national anthem.
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