Alumni come together to thank Allan Rock

Groups of people sitting at tables and standing around a brightly lit bar, listening to speeches.

“I know what it is like to sit in one of our classrooms and dream about changing the world.”

—  Allan Rock

By Mike Foster

June 3, 1969, was one of Allan Rock’s best days ever. That was the day he drove Beatle John Lennon and Yoko Ono around Ottawa in his yellow Volkswagen Beetle. At one point, The Beatles’ song Get Back came on the radio, and Lennon started singing along. The trio went to 24 Sussex Drive in an attempt to meet Pierre Trudeau, but the prime minister was not at home.

As then-president of the University’s student union, Rock had persuaded Lennon to attend a forum on world peace in Ottawa — essentially a press conference held on campus in the lobby of Simard Hall. Afterwards, Rock took John and Yoko on a magical mystery tour in his Beetle for several hours, visiting Parliament Hill and other parts of the city, before dropping them off at the train station.

This extraordinary adventure offers a glimpse into Allan Rock’s character, and his knack for turning idealism into action. At age 21, when he heard about John and Yoko’s now-legendary “bed-in” for world peace at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, he had the gumption to contact Lennon’s road manager to ask if the Beatle would bring his peace message to Ottawa. When told that he could ask Lennon in person, he jumped in his VW and drove to Montreal. He walked into the hotel room just before Lennon was about to record Give Peace a Chance, and convinced him to come to Ottawa.

Another milestone day

Decades later, that story inspired another milestone day for Allan Rock: May 7, 2016. The Come Together uOttawa! gala, the signature event of Alumni Week 2016, was named in reference to a Beatles song and Rock’s famous encounter with Lennon. Alumni at the gala, including Chancellor Calin Rovinescu, used the occasion to celebrate the University’s achievements under Allan Rock’s leadership.

Rovinescu noted that accomplishments such as the hiring of 60 new tenure-track professors since 2012 and construction of The Learning Centre, due to open in January 2018, owe much to Rock’s “vision, passion and leadership.” After eight years as president and vice-chancellor, Rock passes the torch to new president Jacques Frémont on July 1.

Memory lane

At the gala, students cheering and waving pompoms paraded through the new arabesque tent at University Square and pulled the outgoing president up on stage for a trip down memory lane.

A video montage of Rock’s journey included images of his student card (he completed his BA in 1968 and LLB law degree in 1971), his VW Beetle and his press conference with John Lennon. It also showed highlights from his later career, which included serving as Minister of Justice (1993-1997), Minister of Health (1997-2002) and Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations (2004-2006). In a clip from a video promoting the University’s Destination 2020 goals, Rock says: “I know what it is like to sit in one of our classrooms and dream about changing the world.”

Allan Rock acknowledged the support of alumni and donors in achieving the University’s goals. Photo: Andrea Campbell

Speaking after the presentation, Rock said the gala tribute stirred strong emotions, including “enormous pride” at the progress made toward the Destination 2020 goals and “enthusiasm for the future”. He thanked his predecessors, including former presidents Marcel Hamelin (1990-2001) and Gilles Patry (2001-2008), as well as the chancellors he has worked with, namely Huguette Labelle (1994-2012) and Michaëlle Jean (2012-2015).

“Since 1848, every generation has been called upon in turn to do its part to contribute to the development of this magnificent institution,” Rock said. “Just as Marcel (Hamelin) and Gilles (Patry) contributed in their time, I believe over these last eight years, we have moved things forward. If we have made progress, it is thanks to you — alumni and donors who have helped us reach our goals.

“There is an energy on this campus, a sense of momentum,” he added. “You can see it in the number of our alumni — and in the 5,000 who came to our events this week. You can feel it as you see students talking excitedly about their programs and about their future.”

The quality of the students and the faculty recruited by uOttawa, and the University’s partnerships with other leading universities and research institutes around the world, speaks to the fact that “this is a university on the move,” he said.

Young alumna says thanks

Earlier in the evening, Mayoori Malankov, who has just finished her final Juris Doctor exams, spoke about how the University and Rock had changed her life.

Malankov came to Canada as a refugee from Sri Lanka with her mother when she was two years old. She grew up watching her mother help other refugees, and dreamed of practising law. In 2012, she enrolled in the Faculty of Law because of its reputation for social justice. Over the past year, she has chaired the Ottawa chapter of the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF).

“Thanks to the generous support of Allan Rock and his office, we were able to put a spotlight on issues around access to reproductive health and justice by hosting a panel of prominent speakers,” Malankov said. “On behalf of LEAF Ottawa, I’d like to thank you, Allan, for your unwavering support in the protection and advancement of women’s equality.

“And as a former refugee, it has been especially meaningful for me to take part in ground-breaking projects such as uOttawa’s Refugee Sponsorship Support Program, created in response to the refugee crisis.”

Allan Rock has clearly achieved his dream as a student of changing the world. Amid the fond farewells marking the end of an era, he revealed that he will not be going far. After a brief period to regroup, he plans to Get Back soon, as a professor in the Faculty of Law.

A group of students cheered Allan Rock before pulling him on stage for a special tribute. Photo: Andrea Campbell

Main photo:
More than 5,000 people attended the 2016 Alumni Week events, including hundreds at the Come Together uOttawa! gala. Photo: Andrea Campbell

John Lennon and Allan Rock at the peace conference held in Simard Hall in 1969. Photo: Mike Daly

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