The former home of Thomas Foran, who received the University of Ottawa’s first degree, in 1872, will now be a home away from home for the university’s 196,000 alumni, largely thanks to a $2 million donation from Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek.
At a ceremony to officially inaugurate Alex Trebek Alumni Hall, University of Ottawa President Allan Rock thanked Trebek (BA ʼ61), who made a significant donation of $2.4 million. Trebek is also honorary chair of the Campaign Cabinet leading Defy the Conventional: The Campaign for uOttawa, which is seeking to raise $400 million.
“Alex studied philosophy at the University of Ottawa and…has enjoyed a long and successful career in the entertainment business, including more than 30 years as the host of Jeopardy! Perhaps less well known is his dedication to helping others through World Vision and other charities. He has travelled to Zambia, where he helped build a medical facility and a school. He is a champion of education in general and the University of Ottawa in particular,” said Rock.
At the launch event on May 5th, Trebek said it was a “great honour” to have the building named after him, but joked that the University was “honouring a failure” because he had not fulfilled his childhood ambitions of becoming a pilot, a doctor… or prime minister. He recalled his days as one of 250 boys boarding at the University of Ottawa prep school, overseen by 44 priests, before he moved on to study arts and philosophy at the university level.
“If you believe as I do that your character is formed the greatest in adolescence, then mine was formed right here,” said Trebek.
Alex Trebek Alumni Hall will be a gathering place where alumni can refresh their minds, reconnect with former classmates and rediscover their alma mater. Renovations began last year to preserve two heritage buildings, the Maison Gaston-Héon and the former home of Thomas Foran, located on Séraphin Marion, which face the Tabaret lawn. The hall was funded in part through Mr. Trebek’s gift as well as financial support from the University of Ottawa’s Alumni Association, Johnson Inc., MBNA, Canada Life, university faculties and alumni.
The building includes a reception hall for lectures, a lounge, meeting rooms with audiovisual equipment for presentations and hot-desk workstations for alumni visiting Ottawa or between meetings downtown. Former students will be able to continue their professional development through lectures by University professors and researchers, as well as seminars and networking events.
Rock said: “This is a historic moment. It is fitting that one of the houses that is part of this new facility belonged to Thomas Foran, our very first alumnus … He went on to become one of the most successful lawyers in the country, but he always described himself as a son of the University of Ottawa.”
The building also includes the “Alex Trebek Wall,” featuring Trebek’s Emmy Award for outstanding game show host, his Peabody Award for encouraging, celebrating and rewarding knowledge, and an award from World Vision, recognizing his 25 years of service.
Trebek’s $2.4 million donation will also fund the Alex Trebek Distinguished Lecture Series, which will bring high-profile speakers to the uOttawa campus every year during Alumni Week. The first lecture took place on May 8, during this year’s festivities, with three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author Thomas L. Friedman. It was entitled “The World in an Age of Terrorism: Balancing Freedom and Security.”
“I believe that encouraging our students to get involved in improving our society and the world is a worthwhile endeavour,” said Trebek. “We should be promoting an atmosphere of acceptance, not just tolerance. We should welcome all points of view, especially those that disagree with our own. The new Alex Trebek distinguished speaker lectures will bring very different points of view, from all over the world, right here to our nation’s capital.”
Trebek joked that Friedman had once appeared on Celebrity Jeopardy! but did not win.
Trebek also supports uOttawa students like Tina Yuan, founder of CAUSE Tutoring, which helps homeless youth complete their high school education. This group of around 100 uOttawa students works with four Ottawa homeless shelters to provide and coordinate training for disadvantaged adolescents and adults. It started thanks to the Alex Trebek Innovation and Challenge Fund, which helps uOttawa students set up new initiatives to tackle social and development issues in Canada and around the world. Over the past four years, the fund has supported ten volunteer startup projects, in support of refugee health, Northern and Aboriginal communities, a tax clinic for the underprivileged and construction of a computer lab centre in Ghana.