Kielburgers: Use your gifts to help others

Take advantage of new opportunities to take action, no matter how small, and do it with great love to change the world for the better. This was the challenge presented by Free the Children founders Craig and Marc Kielburger to the graduating class from King’s University College.

Craig, who spoke on behalf of his brother and himself, received a standing ovation from the approximately 350 graduates from King’s University College and the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the June 14 afternoon session of Western’s 297th Convocation.

The University of Western Ontario conferred an honorary Doctor of Law upon Marc and Craig in recognition of their internationally renowned work creating change for underprivileged children around the globe.

In his speech, Craig urged graduates to think about the kind of life they want to lead and how they will measure accomplishments. These should not be reduced to the size of one’s bank account or the type of car a person drives; a true legacy is something greater, he says.

“A true legacy is something more lasting; a true legacy is a living legacy.”

From a very young age, the Kielburger brothers sought out opportunities to make a difference. In 1995, at the age of twelve, Craig imagined Free the Children, an organization that stands against the abuses of child labour. More recently, Marc and Craig co‐founded Me to We, a social enterprise harnessing profits from the sale of socially‐responsible products to support local environmental and justice initiatives.

The pair has built more than 650 schools across the globe, including the Mwangaza School Block in Kenya, which was erected with the help of King’s students.

“Both Marc and I, we strive to build schools around the world,” says Craig. “Although we build schools with your help, we certainly collectively learn the greatest lessons from the children we serve.”

They share the stories of their work through best‐selling books, public presentations and syndicated columns, and are masters of social media. Tens of thousands of Canadian students have gathered at We Days to hear the call to awareness and action from a range of international speakers, such as the Dalai Lama, Elie Wiesel, Robert Kennedy, Jane Goodall, and Al Gore.

Many people in the world will not have the opportunity to attend university, notes Craig, adding graduates should not take this privilege for granted.

“When you look around at the world … will you look at the gift that will soon be in your hands and ask yourself not only what a university education can do for you, but how can you use it to help others?” he says.

The Kielburgers are no strangers to academe. A magna cum laude graduate in International Relations from Harvard University, Marc completed his law degree at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. Craig holds a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from Toronto and an MBA from York’s Schulich School of Business.

The list of recognitions for the two is exhaustive and includes: the youngest ever recipients of Ontario Medals for Good Citizenship; Canada’s list of top 40 under 40; Medal for Meritorious Service; alumnus of the year by the Toronto District Catholic School Board; Nelson Mandela Human Rights Award; and the World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders Award.

In 2007 Marc and Craig were named recipients of the Order of Canada and Free the Children has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times.

In his citation, King’s University College principal David Sylvester spoke of Marc and Craig’s work to establish schools in more than 45 countries; their provision of clean water and health care to more than a million people; launching of hundreds of local environmental project; and inspiring a generation of young leaders committed to carrying out these initiatives.

“Craig and Marc Kielburger embody the values of our university through their servant leadership, commitment to social justice and ability to think critically and creatively in the face of real‐world problems,” says Sylvester. “While millions suffer from hunger, disease and oppression, many of us find the prospect of making a difference in the lives of the marginalized an overwhelming and even unimaginable undertaking. In the face of such hopelessness, Marc and Craig Kielburger have chosen to act and, in doing so, have provided a compelling vision and an organizational framework for change.”

As part of the ceremony, the status of professor emeritus was conferred upon Gerald Killan, former King’s principal.

King’s University College Award for Excellence in Teaching was presented to Antonio Calcagno.