“A university is at the center of change in our society”


Dr. Brian StevensonTHUNDER BAY – I bring greetings to all of you.
I would like to acknowledge the original custodians of this land and pay my respect to the Elders – past, present, and future, for they hold the memories, the traditions, the culture, and hopes of Aboriginal Peoples.

I would also like to acknowledge that this gathering is being held on the traditional lands of the Anishnabwe People.

Mr. Chancellor, Arthur Mauro, Honourable Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry, Michael Gravelle, Honourable Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, John Milloy, Chair of the Board of Governors, Colin Bruce, representatives from all levels of government, colleagues from universities across the country, distinguished guests, my faculty colleagues, students, and staff of Lakehead University, friends and family, ladies and gentlemen, and everyone watching on the World Wide Web.

In the valley of Mexico there is a legend of an Aztec princess whose name was IIztaccihuatl. When IIztaccihuatl came of age, her father wanted her to marry a prince, but IIztaccihuatl did not like any of her suitors. One day, she came upon a prince whose name was Popocatépetl.

Popocatépetl was a prince of the Chichimecas, another tribe in Mexico. They fell in love. But IIztaccihuatl’s father was not pleased and when Popocatépetl asked for IIztaccihuatl’s hand in marriage he was furious. After IIztaccihuatl insisted, he finally agreed to the marriage but only if Popocatépetl and his tribe would go to battle for the Aztecs. But Popocatépetl was deceived.

At the height of battle his troops were abandoned by the Aztecs. IIztaccihuatl’s father sent a letter to his daughter telling her that Popocatépetl had died in battle. And in her grief IIztaccihuatl lay down and died.

Miraculously, Popocatépetl survived, victorious from his battle, and came to claim his bride. When he discovered IIztaccihuatl’s body he took her to the edge of the valley, lay her down on her back and crouched next to her, and died.

In time, snow covered their bodies and they became two majestic mountains.

Today we can see Popocatépetl and IIztaccihuatl towering over Mexico City, protecting it like two sleeping giants.

Growing up in Mexico City, I was comforted every time I saw these two mountains, overseeing and protecting the city.

I miss them.

For many years I missed them – no matter where I lived,  no matter how beautiful the setting. There was a gap, a vacant spot in my soul without them. For me the mountains were more than mountains. They were magical, they were spiritual. I could not see them as mere giant heaps of rock. They were the Popo and the Ixtla, as we call them for short in Mexico.  They were more than they appeared. They were not just mountains. They were more than the sum of their parts.

When I first saw the Sleeping Giant of Thunder Bay, that gap, that vacant spot in my soul, was gone. I was home again.  I did not see just a mountain. I saw a Sleeping Giant, I saw Nanibijou, as it is called by the Anishnabwe People. These mountains are more than the sum of their parts.

It is such a great honour for me to be holding this ceremony in this historic building of learning, the Port Arthur Collegiate Institute, that means so much to so many people in this city and is being lovingly restored by Lakehead University.

It is with great gratitude that I want to thank the members of the Search Committee, its search consultant, Dr. Laverne Smith, and the members of the Board who have honoured me with their trust in appointing me president and vice-chancellor of this great university.

I particularly want to thank Kevin Cleghorn and Colin Bruce, past and current chairs of the Board of Governors, as well as the current and past members of the Board who have done so much to ease my transition and that of my beautiful wife, Judy, and my daughters, Cecilia and Isabel.

There is a profound sense of community that has arisen from the incredible   reception that we have received from the students, my faculty colleagues, staff, the senior administrators, alumni, and the communities of Thunder Bay, northwestern Ontario, Orillia, and Simcoe County.

There is a great sense of adventure and excitement as I begin to understand the very important role that Lakehead University plays in these communities, to which it belongs.

The people of Thunder Bay, the northwest, Orillia, and Simcoe County are connected to the University in a very special way, the way we are connected to the natural environment around us, the way we are connected here in Thunder Bay to the Sleeping Giant.

When we see the University, we see more than what appears on the surface.
We see the magic behind it. We see the memories of our past. We see the dreams and hopes of our future.

The University is more impressive than its buildings, grander than its labs, and greater than its classrooms.  Somehow a student comes into it one person and comes out of it another one.  Lakehead University is more than the sum of its parts.

Arriving at Lakehead University this summer and getting to know the two campuses and their communities made me reflect on what it was that attracted me to Lakehead.  It was, first of all, the programs – the great programs this University has – from highly technical professional programs that are on the cutting edge of scientific knowledge, to the fine arts that feeds our souls, to the social science programs that look at what is unique about the nature of our society and our policies, to the programs that educate our educators.

It made me think about what I loved about my undergraduate university experience, and I loved my undergraduate university experience.

As I have gotten to know the students, faculty, staff, and alumni of this university at its two campuses, it has made me think of my professors, the kind staff, my wonderful classmates, and the beautiful setting of the University of Victoria.

It was the attention and the accessibility to my profs, the sense of community of the smaller university that made me feel special and that made me learn better. What I loved about my graduate education at the University of Victoria and at Queen’s University was studying with nationally and internationally recognized faculty working on the frontier of knowledge, teaching me what they were learning themselves through their research, and exploring with them the limits of knowledge.

And this is why we at Lakehead University provide the best undergraduate experience with smaller classes and ready access to faculty, for better more meaningful learning.

And this is why we at Lakehead University aspire to provide the best graduate experience, to assure that students get the most advanced and up-to-date knowledge, so they can be best prepared to face their professional lives.

We are a comprehensive university, and this is why we continue to have cutting- edge research. Our institutional hopes and dreams are the hopes and dreams of Thunder Bay, northwestern Ontario, Orillia, and Simcoe County.

Excellence in teaching undergraduate and graduate programs, advanced- and cutting-edge research being done simultaneously as part of an organic whole, is what differentiates a university from other institutions of higher learning.  And this is especially important in northwestern Ontario where our many communities need our support.

These elements cannot be separated from the formula that makes universities unique and contributes to our community’s economic, cultural, and social development.

Lakehead University is more than the sum of its parts.

A university is a unique player in society. Its role is not only to educate. Its role is not only to do research. A university is at the center of change in our society.

Economically, a university is not just a passive player, bringing into the community the many financial benefits and spinoffs of the salaries of its staff, of the expenditures for its infrastructure, and the spending power of its students.

A university can be an active player in the economic development of a community. Its faculty, staff, students, and alumni can and should participate in creating an economic environment for prosperity and financial sustainability.

We can change this world.

A university can be an active player in the social development of a community, not only by the debate and discussion that can happen uniquely inside its gates. It can be an active player in changing the very nature of its society by providing opportunity, by validating and supporting the aspirations of the people in its community.

We can change this world.

This is why I chose to hold two events around the celebrations of my installation.

First, what is the role of the university in economic development? How can the University plan its future in conjunction with the economic development and aspirations of its communities? How can we actively help Thunder Bay, northwestern Ontario, Orillia, and Simcoe County?

Yesterday, we discussed and debated what we can do as an institution to be constructive and active players in economic development.

Second, how can the University engage Aboriginal communities to continue to increase the enrolment of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit students? How can the University engage Aboriginal communities in supporting their economic development, in securing their cultural and linguistic heritage, and in improving the quality of life of their people?

Yesterday we heard from Dr. Phil Fontaine on how the university can support aboriginal peoples’ economic development. This morning we were inspired by Dr. Lloyd Axworthy who shared with us his vision for the role of the university in engaging aboriginal communities and higher education.
We can change this world.

And what we dream for ourselves at the University, we dream in order to serve our communities, whether we hope for greater research capacity, more graduate programs, or even a new law school. We do not do it for ourselves alone. Your dreams and your hopes are our dreams and our hopes.

To be sure, the mission of the University in the community is not limited to these two. By opening the opportunities beyond our borders, by adding our voice and our abilities to a global community, Lakehead University can add the talent of its faculty, alumni, students, and staff to an increasingly globalized world.

We can bring students from around the world to our campuses. We can send our students to many countries, to learn many languages, to understand many cultures, to witness many histories, to broaden their horizons, and to change the course of their lives.

We can tap into the talent of our multicultural and international faculty and task them with connecting us with their roots.

We can connect people in cities and municipalities, in Aboriginal and rural communities to opportunities and new horizons previously beyond their reach.

We can change this world.

The University is not a passive player in society. It is not a mere presence in our community. It is a proactive player in the many facets of development and change, of understanding and practice, of analysis and validation, which makes our society a better place.

So I ask you: Join me and embrace your University, its ideals, its hopes, and its dreams, because they are your ideals, your hopes, and your dreams.

So I ask you: Join me and embrace the University, its achievements, its challenges, and its celebrations because they are your achievements, your challenges, and your celebrations.

I ask you to join me and embrace the University, to make it yours, to make it ours.

Lakehead University is more than the sum of its parts.  It is you and it is me.  Together we can change this world.

Dr. Brian Stevenson

President, Lakehead University

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