Good morning, everyone. I am grateful to Muntaka Ahmed and the entire UTSU team for the invitation to say a few words today.
So, let me start by saying: congratulations and welcome to the University of Toronto.
These are, of course, unprecedented times in our institution’s history. As we start the new academic year together, many of us will be participating largely or entirely online.
Of course, the health and safety of our entire community remains our first and top priority. In this regard, I have been tremendously impressed by our students and student leaders. Their leadership, perseverance, and creativity have been truly remarkable as U of T has navigated these past extraordinary months and prepared for the next extraordinary months.
This should come as no surprise. As you know, U of T is Canada’s leading institution of higher education and advanced research. We consistently ranked 1st in Canada and among the top universities around the world. Among public universities, we rank 9th in the world, in the company of institutions such as Berkeley, UCLA, Oxford, and Cambridge. You have chosen an exceptional place in which to learn, to grow, and to experience, share, and create new opportunities.
Let me also thank you for coming to U of T. Yes, we have many world-class facilities here, including libraries, labs, classes, clubs and athletic facilities, art galleries, theatres, start-up incubators, and more. We have been working hard to provide safe and accessible means of using these resources, whether you are here in person, or here virtually. But this year, more than ever, I am reminded that it is the people – the students, faculty, staff, and alumni – who make the University of Toronto such a special place. You are a key part of one of the most vibrant academic communities in the world.
And the opportunities are immense. Whether it is discovering anatomy, astrophysics, architecture, or the arts, learning with and from your peers, who come from such a huge variety of social and cultural backgrounds, will expand your mind and broaden your perspective. This will be true whether you are interacting with each other in-person or at-a-distance.
Over the past months, the power of digitally-enhanced education and collaboration have certainly opened many eyes. When we pivoted to virtual classes in the spring, our faculty, staff, and students did an amazing job – but we were all in crisis response mode.
Since then, however, we have had an opportunity to plan, create, and innovate proactively and purposefully – led by some of the best teachers and researchers anywhere. As a result, a rich and stimulating University of Toronto experience awaits you. Much of this experience, I should add, will be created by the largest, most diverse, imaginative, and lively student body anywhere. And you are a part of it. The community you are joining may be distributed across the city, the country, and around the world. But it is no less a thriving community, wherever its members are located.
My point is simply this: make the most of that community and the opportunities you have. Take full advantage of all the University has to offer. Your studies will be paramount, of course. Reach out to your professors, TAs, registrars, librarians and health and wellness staff. Engage them and they will engage you. And remember, there is more to your education than your classes. There are literally hundreds of options including everything from online fitness classes and nutrition discussions, to virtual board-game cafes and workshops of every description.
Most of all, reach out to each other, to your fellow students and classmates. In your time at U of T, your peers, friends, and colleagues will help shape your future as much as your studies will.
I wish you all great success and good health in the year to come and throughout your time with us. Take care of yourself and each other. I look forward to shaking your hand on stage in Convocation Hall when you graduate in 4 years’ time.
Welcome again to the University of Toronto.