Spring 2016 Convocation Op-ed

This op-ed was published by the Waterloo Region Record on June 18, 2016. Read it on the Records's website

graduating class clapping

I am very lucky to look into the faces of thousands of students this week as they cross the stage and collect their degrees. I think I know what many of them are feeling.

They have done everything we've asked of them. They worked hard to get accepted to Waterloo. They got the grades and earned their degrees. They have grown as thinkers, and professionals — checked all the boxes and completed the contract of education they signed four years ago.

That's how we think about many experiences in our lives. As a deal; as a transaction. But students and their families should know one thing: they mean more to us than that.

We chose them — carefully. This year's convocating cohort are just a handful of the tens of thousands of applicants we received five years ago. And of the nearly 25,000 universities in the world, they chose Waterloo.

Those decisions form the basis of a covenant, not simply a contract.

The University of Waterloo isn't just a service provider, or a campus. It is a community within this dynamic and exciting region. I believe our graduates — and those of Wilfrid Laurier University — will always be members of this community and as they depart I want them to know that they will always belong here.

As great thinkers, like the author David Brooks, has noted, there is a lack of belonging in the world. There is great freedom and individuality, but there is also great insularity and great fragmentation.

Our region is lucky to have a hand in nurturing students from three of Canada's best post-secondary institutions. It's important that graduates know that they matter to this community.

The class that departs our region this week steps into a world that has changed dramatically since they arrived. Our country has emerged from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Snapchat wasn't a thing when anxious parents dropped their children off in new digs. Even the job market is vastly different. Many industries — some led by leaders our community raised — are ushering in the fourth Industrial Revolution: in cars, in biotech, in the digital arts.

The world outside this university has changed, but we've changed with it. If the young people we welcomed then are smarter, tougher, more experienced now, so are we all thanks to the unique bond between town and gown.

Indeed the Region of Waterloo is more relevant, more connected to society and more in touch with the values of this generation than when they started. That's because we encouraged our young people to speak up, to try something new and by insisting we reflect their values.

Values and priorities like gender equity, like diversity, like entrepreneurship, like international connections and global perspectives. Our community now leads in these fields because we've made each other stronger.

As a leader in this ecosystem and throughout my career, I've learned that we are completely dependent upon our teammates for our success. I have told the graduates this week that they begin their lives as Waterloo alumni knowing they can depend on their alma mater. And we must all help them stay connected with this community to keep driving us forward.

This region thrives in large part due to the ideas, the vitality and the energy of the young people who are ending their academic careers to start on the next phase of their lives. We will depend on them to tell people why this community matters, what their university means to them, and what makes those things so special.

I hope I speak for this entire region in saying congratulations on earning their degrees. But, more importantly, thank you for the ways in which you have changed us.