Office of the President

President Amit Chakma's Honourary Doctorate address University of Waterloo

June 19-10 Mr. Chancellor, Mr. President and Vice-Chancellor, Mr. Provost, Dr. Samarasekera, Dr. Kamali, my fellow graduands, colleagues and friends, ladies and gentlemen.

On behalf of my fellow honourees Dr. Indira Samarasekera and Dr. Tayeeb Kamali, I would like to thank the Senate of the University, Dean Adel Sedra and President Johnston for bestowing upon us the distinction of Doctor of Engineering, Honoris Causa.

It is a great honour to be admitted as graduands of this distinguished university. It is also a privilege to receive a degree in engineering without having to work for it, unlike all other graduands who are convocating today.

On behalf of Dr. Samarasekera, Dr. Kamali and myself, I offer our warmest congratulations to the graduands who have earned their degrees.

For eight years, I had the wonderful privilege of admitting students of this University to their hard-earned degrees. And today I am overjoyed to be at the receiving end of a Waterloo degree granting ceremony.

I accept this honour from the University and its world-leading engineering school with much humility.

And I am thrilled because the University also happens to be one with which I have a very strong emotional bond.

My formal relationship with Waterloo ended last July when I began my new role as President & Vice-Chancellor at Western, which is why I am so pleased to be re-establishing that formal relationship as one of Waterloo’s newly minted Alumni.

Now let me turn my attention to our graduands whose accomplishments we are here to formally recognize and celebrate.

I know personally that you are among the world’s best and brightest young engineering minds, as you all were admitted to Waterloo when I was its chief academic officer.

As students, you have benefitted from the fine education this university has given you. And as Waterloo alumni, you count among a very privileged group of people who can call themselves graduates of such a highly respected school.

Only a small fraction of the 6.8 billion people on our planet will ever have such opportunities. And that privilege carries enormous moral and social responsibilities. You now have the moral responsibility to use your knowledge and your talents for the betterment of your communities, your country, your world, and humanity at large.

We now live in a global village, where we are all citizens of a wondrously diverse and amazingly beautiful community we call planet Earth.

And right here in this auditorium today we are shining example of the diversity and beauty of our global community.

Just look around you.

Many of you have ties to many parts of the world.

Look at some of us at the platform. Our Chancellor, our Provost, our Dean and your three honourees— we were all born in different parts of the world.

But something important that we all share in common is that we have all chosen to make Canada our home.

And why is that?

One reason is that Canada is an excellent model for the kind of global village we would like the whole world to call home—a peaceful, tolerant and just society where people from all backgrounds can truly feel at home.

As Canadians, we have much to share with the world, and at the same time, we can also learn much from our fellow citizens around the globe.

And as Canadians, we have a tremendous opportunity to play a leadership role as global citizens and make the world a better place.

Canada is uniquely positioned to play a leadership role because we are a trading nation. Indeed we are one of the most trade-intensive nations in the world. We need international trade with the rest of the world to be able to maintain our current levels of prosperity.

However, our prosperity cannot be sustained if we continue to rely so heavily on the exploitation of our natural resources.

In a knowledge-intensive economy, we need to rely more on our brains and our talents.

In the global marketplace of ideas, we need to compete with the best and the brightest of the world.

This is why if I could leave you today with only one piece of advice on how to succeed in whatever endeavour you choose to pursue, it’s this: embrace a global vision.

Our world faces enormous challenges, but it is also filled with unlimited potential, possibilities and opportunities. Our challenges include issues such as environmental degradation, and scarcity of food and safe drinking water.

If you embrace a global vision, your talents and creative minds hold the potential and the power to solve these problems and improve the human condition right across our global village.

To deal with these challenges, you’ll have to bring new perspectives and new thinking to the table because many of the problems have been created by previous generations, based on old beliefs and outdated thinking.

Embracing a global vision means keeping an open mind.

And it requires that you ask questions.

Lots of questions. Tough questions. Big questions.

Why in a world of plenty do some children still go hungry?

Why in a world of plenty do some communities not have access to clean water?

Why in a world faced with global warming do we burn relatively clean natural gas to produce relatively carbon rich bitumen in Alberta?

Why in a world where we know the health risks associated with asbestos do we remove it from our buildings in Canada, yet we continue to export it to developing countries?

You’ll know you’ve embraced a global vision when you ask these big, tough questions because they will challenge you to think broadly and not limit yourself only to matters concerned exclusively to your careers as engineers.

And those big, tough questions will challenge you to act.

Some of the inherent values of an engineering education—analytical and critical thinking, problem solving, team work, and above all a capacity to dream and find ways of realizing your dreams—can be applied to your tremendous potential as leaders.

I am sure that Dr. Samarasekera and Dr. Kamali will agree that it is some of these fundamental aspects of our engineering education that help us to play our leadership roles.

Many of you may know that our distinguished chancellor, Prem Watsa, is one of Canada’s leading financial minds.

Many may not be aware, however, that he is a Chemical Engineer.

Along the way, of course, he also received an MBA from Canada’s best business school, Western’s Richard Ivey School of Business.

I am sure his Western MBA has influenced his career significantly, but I also tend to think that his engineering education provided a solid foundation.

Waterloo engineering and its alumni have a proud history of embracing a global vision and using their talents for the improvement of the human condition.

The Waterloo Pump and Engineers without Borders are just two such examples. Continue this proud tradition.

Your Waterloo education has also given you the tools to continue to learn and discover. Your learning process has not ended and in many ways it has just begun.

When you embrace a global vision, you will naturally continue along the journey of life-long learning.

This great university has prepared you to face the world with confidence.

Go out there, explore the world, think and act as true citizens of our global village, make it a better place and, as Chancellor Emeritus Mike Lazaridis would say it, “Live a life of impact”.