A decade ago when Mary Anne Chambers hooded South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the University of Toronto convocation, it never crossed her mind that one day she would be conferred with a similar honour.
She had turned down the opportunity to attend her convocation in 1988 when she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree as a part-time mature student while working as a member of Scotiabank’s international systems development team and – with her husband — raising two young sons.
Everybody deserves a second chance and Chambers got that last week when she proudly stepped on stage to receive an honorary doctorate at the U of T spring convocation.
She said she regretted missing the chance to have her family celebrate that significant milestone the first time around and she thanked the university’s principal, president and chancellor for giving her another opportunity to be recognized by an academic institution that she has fondly embraced for the past three decades.
“Through my relationship with the University of Toronto, I have learned and experienced as much outside of the classrooms and lecture halls as I have from the courses I took,” she said in her convocation address.
In addition to being a graduate, she was a U of T governor and vice-chair of the governing council where her participation on a task force on student financial support led to the implementation of a policy that enabled young people with inadequate financial resources to consider enrolling in the university.
Chambers also participated in the establishment of a mentorship program for the university’s administrative staff.
“To say that my life has been enriched by the U of T does not do justice to the extent of that reality,” she said. “So it is my wish for the members of this graduating class that you will take great pride in the ways in which the university has already enriched your lives and that you will recognize and embrace the possibilities that have yet to become your reality.
“I also ask that you consider what you can do to help others to access the opportunities that you have had and will no doubt continue to have. Recognize your good fortune and don’t take it for granted. Put your education to good use not only for your personal gain, but also to provide opportunity for others.
“I hope you see opportunities to engage in some kind of public service. Identify an issue that concerns you, something you can be passionate about and work to make the situation better. There will always be more work to be done and to make our world a better place.”
Chambers reminded the graduating class that they have the ability to impact the lives of others by how they choose to live their lives, the decisions they make and the action they take.
“We can all be community builders,” she added. “You, no doubt, have high expectations of what you should achieve in life, particularly given the investment that you have made in your education. I would also ask that you define the kind of person you want to be. I continue to learn from all that I have experienced and continue to experience. And the more open that I am to learning is the more I realize that there is so much that I do not know. Hopefully, what you have experienced at the University of Toronto will have helped to open your minds to all that is possible.”
In 2007, Chambers successfully lobbied for the U of T Scarborough campus to engage in a tutoring and mentorship program with local students in Grades Nine and Ten.
She 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.