A short but sweet visit from Mme Michaëlle Jean

Friday, December 10, 2021

Mme Jean in Chancellor outfit
Just over a year ago, St. Paul’s proudly welcomed our third Chancellor, Mme Michaëlle Jean. Chancellor is a ceremonial position of the Board of Governors of St. Paul's University College. In late November, for the first time since she was installed as Chancellor, Mme Jean was able to visit St. Paul’s campus, meet our students, staff and board members as well as some members of the University of Waterloo community. What could seem like an intimidating moment was exactly the opposite; Mme Jean brought warmth to the college as she toured around meeting as many people as she possibly could in the short time she had with us. Mme Jean has many shared interests with the St. Paul’s community, which in turn made it important for her to experience as much as she could. Luckily, while mighty, St. Paul’s is a small community, which made it possible for Mme Jean to meet with many key people and groups while she was here.    

During my stay, each meeting, each discussion was inspiring. I was very moved by the testimonies and appreciated the moments of sharing with the professors, the members of the Board of Directors, as well as the young people enrolled in programs for Indigenous people, refugee students, International Development students and those engaged in the GreenHouse incubator. I was impressed by the strong feeling of belonging and the spirit of commitment and engagement. I would like to assure you of my full support as Chancellor and my desire to come back as often as possible to be with you. 

Chancellor, Michaëlle Jean 

Mme Jean’s first stop was the Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre (WISC) where she had an opportunity to share a meal in their space and learn more about the offerings of the centre. The WISC is a highly important space on campus that is supportive, respectful, inclusive and welcoming to all Indigenous students on campus. Mme Jean had a lovely evening of conversation with students, Elders and members of the Indigenous Advisory Circle.   

Bright and early the next day, Mme Jean had the opportunity to meet with some students and Residence Life staff over breakfast to learn more about student life on campus and the clubs and teams offered in residence. To learn more about St. Paul’s faculty, staff, and programming, Mme Jean then shared coffee and conversation with faculty and staff. 

students in the GreenHouse

Near to Mme Jean’s heart is the Student Refugee Program (SRP) that supports over 130 refugee students per year across Canada. St. Paul’s manages the program here at Waterloo. Once a refugee herself, Mme Jean had the opportunity to share experiences with some of the students enrolled through the SRP and the conversations were deeply moving. She then moved on to a discussion with students and faculty members of the International Development program (INDEV). Meeting in the GreenHouse space, hosted by John Abraham, Continuing Lecturer and Manager of International Work Experience, INDEV students shared small glimpses into the work they have been doing internationally, with Mme Jean.    

The final year International Development students were greatly appreciative and inspired by the honesty and acuity with which Mme Jean shared her rich perspectives and experiences on issues of diplomacy, history, race and gender. That dialogue provided the basis for much engaged discussion in my class with some of them later in the week. Many students remarked that they were especially touched by Mme Jean’s approachability and genuine curiosity about their studies and future plans. All of the students are looking forward to the possibility of Mme. Jean returning to campus before they graduate.

John Abraham 

St. Paul's Board members

Having been a board member for over a year and only having the ability to connect virtually, Mme Jean needed to have the opportunity to get to know her fellow Governors. Over lunch, the Board was able to engage in an open discussion on a wide range of subjects. “Meeting with Mme. Jean was a delight. She had a natural warmth and connection with everyone she met, and her background and experience fit beautifully with the many faces of St. Paul’s University College.” said Julia Salvini, Vice-Chair, Board of Governors   

student ventures at the Social Impact Showcase

While Mme Jean was on campus, she attended the GreenHouse Social Impact Showcase. She was able to listen to seven teams pitch their ventures and watch as four received funding. It was an honour for these students to be able to present their ideas with Mme Jean in attendance.   

As a thank you, Santosh Chandrasekar, a current GreenHouse student enrolled in the Social Innovators in Training Program, presented Mme Jean with one of his paintings. Santosh is exploring how storytelling can be used to exchange culture and build a global community between immigrants and Canadian citizens. His piece titled, Enlightened (2018), is a painting translated to print that captures the spirituality and politics of the Hijab. The piece is rooted in the artist’s middle eastern identity. It was done based on the interactions he had with many hijabi women he met at different points of his life.

As an artist, I’m always fascinated by people’s thoughts and connection with my work. Listening to Madame Jean’s story after graciously accepting my artwork was surreal and thought-provoking. A moment of cultural exchange and agency! It’s a moment I’ll cherish for a really long time.

Santosh Chandrasekar  

To wrap up her already very busy and meaningful trip, Mme Jean ventured across the creek to meet with the University of Waterloo President, Vivek Goel, Vice-President, Research and International, Charmaine Dean and members of the University of Waterloo Anti-Racism Taskforce to learn more about the work they are doing.  

Principal Richard Myers was delighted with this short, but sweet visit. “Mme Jean fit wonderfully into the St. Paul’s community and made each person she interacted with feel seen and heard. While it may have taken some time to safely have her visit our campus, we can’t wait to have her back more regularly!” 

Mme Jean with Rick Myers, the anti-racism task forse and Charmaine Dean