Senator Donald Oliver reminded York University’s Liberal Arts & Professional Studies graduates last week that they have three key assets – information, interaction and influence – they can leverage to better understand trends and developments and share ideas and opinions that can help to shape events and the course of history.
“We have more information at our fingertips and more opportunities to interact with more people than ever before in the history of the world and that means that each one of us has an unprecedented opportunity to influence other people and events,” Oliver told the graduates in his convocation address. “As you make your way forward in the future, I hope that you will take advantage of your great potential to make a difference and to make our world better.”
Oliver was conferred with his fourth honorary degree, having previously being similarly recognized by Dalhousie University, the University of Guelph and Acadia University.
As a lawyer, teacher, entrepreneur, advocate and statesman, Oliver has served Nova Scotians – he was born in the province – and Canadians with honour, integrity and distinction for the past four decades.
“When I was your age, I had just graduated from Acadia University with an honours degree in History, learning about pivotal events and the people who changed history and that had a great impact on me as a young man,” recalled Oliver who a few years ago raised $500,000 to lead the first ever national study conducted in Canada that definitively proves the business case for diversity. “It inspired me to pursue a Law degree and to become an advocate for the rights of others. It moved me to teach, to explore business, to take a deep interest in political reform and I know that these efforts led to my appointment to the Senate where I am able to help advance important social change.
“Over the years, I have seen Canada evolve into the most ethnically diverse country in the world. I believe this growing diversity is elevating our country in making Canada stronger, more creative and more open to different cultures and points of view. A long time ago, I made a conscious choice to promote the benefits of diversity and inclusion and to denounce the racism and intolerance that jeopardizes these advantages.”
Called to the Bar in Nova Scotia in 1965, Oliver served as director of the Law Foundation of Nova Scotia and was active in several community organizations in his home province before his appointment to the Senate in September 1990.
His commitment to human rights and equality for Canadians is reflected in his community service and his frequent public speaking engagements. He spearheaded a Conference Board of Canada study titled “Business Critical: Maximizing the Talents of Visible Minorities” which provides a reminder that systemic barriers to employment equity endure in Canada’s public and private sector.
“He has devoted his lifetime to the championing of visible minorities and to combatting discrimination in its many overt and more subtle forms,” said Martin Singer, the Dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. “He has provided policy leadership and governance on the business sector while concurrently broadening public discourses and challenging politicians, managers, citizens, students and future leaders to engage with a full sense of the term ‘diversity’ and the broader sense of our ethical obligations to others.”
York University president and vice-chancellor, Mamdouh Shoukri and chancellor, Roy McMurtry, congratulated Oliver. McMurtry also spoke of his admiration of the university’s commitment to social justice, equality and accessibility.
‘I am very proud to be associated with York’s remarkable student diversity which so mirrors the rich plurality of Canada and its commitment to community engagement,” he said. “Community advocacy has long been a personal priority for me, particularly in terms of ensuring that our youth are given every reasonable opportunity to succeed.”
A former Ontario attorney general and Chief Justice, McMurtry has been a tireless human and social rights advocate who has supported many Black organizations. He also passed more than 50 law reform statutes he introduced as a member of the provincial government, including the first major family law reform legislation in Canada and the establishment of a bilingual court system.
He reminded the graduates that education is an important and irreplaceable vehicle for the building of a just a successful society as well as a major source of social cohesion in a diverse society. He encouraged them to be vigilant in protecting and strengthening the pride that most Canadians feel about the country’s fabric.
“As you think about future careers, I will like to suggest that you do think about future opportunities for public service that will arise in the years ahead,” McMurtry added. “In my career, I found community service to be particularly fulfilling…I also suggest that you never lose sight of the qualities of generosity, courage, dignity, humour and, above all, integrity and remember that life is a process where how you get there is generally more important than just getting there. Success usually is incremental and not a quick fix.”
By RON FANFAIR