Please note: Speeches appear in the language in which they were delivered.
I would like to express my gratitude for the honour you are bestowing on me. This honorary doctorate from the University of Ottawa is not for me alone but also for those who have encouraged me and offered their advice throughout my career, and in particular, my colleagues at Centraide of Greater Montreal.
I’d like to convey to all of you graduating here today my heartfelt congratulations as you receive your degrees. You have earned the admiration of all those who have believed in you, and yes, that includes your proud parents. You have reached an important goal, one that you have set with determination and one that prepares you to achieve great things for the well-being of our society and humanity in general. Never doubt your potential, everything is possible. May you grow confident, dream big and be happy.
This honour means that much more to me because of the University’s commitment to civic engagement and reaching out to others, which is so important, particularly in our world today with not only considerable challenges before us but also opportunities that just a few short years ago seemed impossible.
Who would have thought climate change and the geopolitical shifts we’ve seen—I’m thinking in particular of India, China and the European Union—would have happened so quickly? How do we adapt to all this with grace and courage?
One thing I’m certain of is that new ways of doing things will come from people, collectively, with different experiences, knowledge and skills working together, creating connections and networks. We have to be able to transfer our knowledge, to exchange ideas and stimulate creativity in one another.
But first we must understand each other. And this is a very, very difficult task indeed!
We must be open to others, that is…we must have confidence in them. Yet it’s not always easy to do so. And it doesn’t happen overnight. But one of the places we can create the winning conditions for this to happen is at university. A student in the Faculty of Law may develop a friendship with a student in engineering, or perhaps one studying anthropology or the social sciences. These are the beginnings of enduring connections, if we nurture them.
However, we must be able to communicate in ways that allow us to understand one another. Let me use an example. If I talk about millions, billions, trillions…I don’t know if you’re able to form a mental image of what these numbers really represent. If I say, however, one million seconds is equivalent to 12 days, one billion seconds is 32 years and one trillion is 200,000 years—or 200 centuries, now we’re getting somewhere.
I would like to finish by just touching on the significant changes I mentioned and by underscoring how important prevention is in order to be able to face these changes. Unfortunately, though, we don’t attach value to prevention. A general who wins a battle is presented with medals. Yet a general who averts a war doesn’t receive even a thank you. A very wise man, Federico Mayor, former director-general of UNESCO, said “We must know in order to foresee. Foresee in order to prevent. We must act in a timely, decisive and courageous manner to reach success.”
He also said “Daring, consideration for one’s fellow human beings and the capacity for sharing—this triad…encapsulated in the phrase daring, caring, sharing—are among the human qualities that are essential for facing up to the challenges of the future.”
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