Former Ontario cabinet minister Mary Anne Chambers regrets deliberately missing convocation after graduating with honours from the University of Toronto with a Commerce degree in 1988.
Just over two decades later, Chambers is getting a second chance. She will be awarded an honorary doctorate at the U of T Scarborough campus in June.
“I didn’t attend because I didn’t want to make a big deal about graduating from university,” said Chambers who pursued her degree as a part-time, mature student over seven years. “I was what we now call a first generation student and the first in my family to earn a university degree. I was also working full-time and raising two children at the time, so I had taken the most difficult route and succeeded, and that was even more reason to celebrate.
“I have since learned that I can be both happy and humble at the same time about whatever I have achieved and I often encourage young people to celebrate their achievements, whether large or small…At one of my son’s convocation, the tears flowed uncontrollably down my cheeks when I heard a young man in the audience shout, ‘Way to go, Mom’, as his mother approached the chancellor. I felt sorry for myself for missing out on the opportunity to have my family celebrate a significant milestone that I could not have achieved without their understanding, accommodation and support.”
Chambers, who also completed Queen’s University’s executive management program, is being honoured by Canada’s largest university with which she has been closely associated for nearly 30 years.
In 2007, she successfully lobbied for the U of T Scarborough campus to engage in a tutoring and mentorship program with Grade Nine and Ten area school students.
Chambers also made a financial contribution when she left politics, described as a parting gift to the community, to help sustain the program run by the university’s Black Students Association.
And as vice-chair of the U of T governing council, the former university board member participated on a task force on student financial support that led to the implementation of a policy that would not deter young people from enrolling in the university because of inadequate financial resources.
“The degree is offered to you in recognition of your exemplary roles in public and community service and in particular your outstanding contributions to the U of T over three decades,” university president David Naylor told Chambers who is a former Canadian Club of Toronto president, Rouge Valley Health System governing council vice-chair, Air Cadet League of Canada governor, Tropicana Community Service Organization board member, United Way of Greater Toronto trustee and director of the 2008 Toronto Olympic Bid Corporation.
Poised to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh before falling in love and marrying her husband Chris 40 years ago, Chambers came to Canada with her family in 1976.
A year after retiring as a Scotiabank senior vice-president, she entered politics and served for nearly two years as Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. In that role, she announced the largest multi-year investment in post-secondary education in four decades and introduced major improvements to student assistance policies and funding. Significant changes were also made to the Private Career Colleges Act to provide enhanced protection for students and increased support was made available to encourage apprenticeships in the skilled trades.
During her tenure as Minister of Children and Youth Services, Chambers considerably increased the availability of child care spaces, improved access to subsidies and overhauled the province’s child protection system.
The sponsor of two basic schools in Jamaica and annual scholarships administered by the John Brooks Foundation, the Jamaican Canadian Association and the Church of the Nativity in Scarborough, Chambers currently serves on the boards of the YMCA of Greater Toronto, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education (PACE).
Former federal opposition leader Preston Manning, ex-deputy Prime Minister John Manley, longtime Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion and author Lawrence Hill will also be presented with honorary doctorates this spring.
The son of Ontario Black History Society founder and the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s first full-time director Dr. Daniel Hill who passed away seven years ago, Hill has authored three novels, including the award-winning The Book of Negroes.
The former Globe & Mail reporter won the National Magazine Award for the best essay – Is Africa’s Pain Black America’s Burden? – which was published in Canada in 2005. His 90-minute documentary – Seeking Salvation: a History of the Black Church in Canada – won the American Wilbur Award for best national television documentary.