Innovation is evolution: Hofstetter

“If we could bring together the collective education and wisdom of all the graduates, just imagine what might be accomplished,” says Mary Elizabeth Hofstetter, who received an honorary Doctor of Laws from Western Thursday afternoon.

Hofstetter spoke to graduates from the faculties of Education, Engineering, Law, Don Wright Faculty of Music and Richard Ivey School of Business, as well as the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Honoured for her work advocating for education, training and creativity in the arts, sciences and business leadership in Canada, Hofstetter admitted it was her first convocation at the university, since she was working in England right after receiving her MA in English from Western.

“So I am joining you for the first time, as well,” she says.

Between 1974 and 1988 Hofstetter was the associate director of Applied Arts and Business at Conestoga College in Waterloo and the first vice-president academic at Mohawk College in Hamilton, where she oversaw a complete overhaul and realignment of the college’s academic developments.

She then served as president and chief executive officer at Sheridan College, one of Canada’s largest and best-known colleges. During this time she implemented two five-year strategic plans; developed high-profile post-diploma programs in areas such as International Business; and forged partnerships with institutions such as Ford and Chrysler in Canada, the United States and globally.

As well, she generated government and private sector support in the field of animation that encouraged Disney to establish the studio in Toronto that produced or co-produced works such as Beauty and the Beast: Enchanted Christmas and Pocahontas II: Journey to the New World.

She told graduates they will soon be seeing input from, and competing with, those from other disciplines and with these collective skills will have the power to change the way we do things.

“You can’t teach creativity, but you can create the environment in which it can grow and flourish,” she says. “We live in a era (without boundaries) and your innovation and passion is your calling card.”

Hofstetter adds, in a world of such instant connectivity, we need to take ownership of that power and, while there is a need to follow rules, “not to be afraid to break them and create your own.”

“Know your values, respect them, and they will strengthen you,” she says. “Be sure to keep your sense of humour, preserve your self worth and never underestimate when your University of Western Ontario education will serve you well and become your backbone.”

Shifting gears, Hofstetter spent two years as general manager and CEO of the Stratford Festival and later became president and CEO of The Banff Centre. She also led the Campaign for the Banff Centre that has raised $142 million to date.

In his citation, English professor David Bentley says Hofstetter belongs to “an extremely select group of imaginative leaders.

“Mary’s career has been stellar – so much so that it gives the illusion of having been entirely predestined,” Bentley says. “Of course, it has actually been a brilliant combination of imagination, dedication, hard work and what Howard Gardner calls a ‘multitude of intelligences’, artistic, organizational, administrative, financial and inter-personal.”

Click here to watch the live broadcast of Western’s convocation ceremonies Oct. 27-28.