The individual is the most powerful force of change, Executive Director of the London Food Bank Glen Pearson told graduates at the Wednesday, June 18 afternoon session of Western’s 303rd Convocation.
“The individual matters – and what you do individually matters,” Pearson said. “The most powerful office in the land is the individual citizen.”
Pearson spoke to graduates from the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, the Faculty of Health Sciences and The Faculty of Law at the Wednesday, June 18 afternoon session of Western’s 303rd Convocation. Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LLD), upon Pearson in recognition of his years of dedicated humanitarian work.
Pearson told graduates they must keep in mind that today “isn’t about a selfie,” but rather about acknowledging our collective humanity and striving to make a positive difference that will affect all individuals – be they in Canada or in developing nations.
“Despite our differences, we treat each other with respect because that’s what knowledge does,” he said.
“You have the knowledge. You have the training. You can now get the experience. But if you don’t understand it, what’s it all for? Any fool can know, but the point is to understand.”
Originally from Calgary, Alta., Pearson started out doing famine relief work during the war in Bangladesh. Later, he traveled to Ireland to assist Roman Catholic and Protestant young people to put aside their differences and work on a more cooperative future.
In 1974, Pearson moved to London, joining the London Fire Department two years later as a professional firefighter – a career that lasted nearly three decades. At this time, he also served as volunteer director of the London Food Bank, and was the chairperson of Ontario’s food banks for three years.
Together with his wife, Jane Roy, Pearson began fighting slavery in Sudan in the late-1990s. The Sudanese civil war was Africa’s longest-running conflict and claimed the lives of some 2.5 million people, with 5 million being displaced. The couple’s work led them to start Canadian Aid for Southern Sudan in order to build schools, establish women’s programs and other development projects to help those who had returned from slavery and settled back into south Sudan.
They have maintained their interest in the border region between north and south Sudan and have cooperated with other non-governmental organizations to enhance development projects in the region. Pearson and Roy were made international observers to the southern Sudanese referendum in January 2011, an initiative that resulted in the southern region of Sudan forming its own government and becoming the newest independent nation in the world – The Republic of South Sudan.
In 2006, Pearson was elected the Member of Parliament for London North Centre – a position he held for nearly five years. He served as the Official Critic for International Cooperation in the shadow cabinet and worked with Tony Blair, Paul Martin, Sen. Romeo Dallaire and numerous non-governmental organizations on African issues during his political career.
Pearson has seven children, four grandchildren and is the author of numerous books. He sits on the board of the London Community Foundation, Emerging Leaders London, Wesley-Knox United Church and was co-chair of a special campaign to assist My Sisters Place. He and his family are presently undertaking the construction of a secondary school as a means of providing a solid base for education in the Aweil East region of the Republic of South Sudan.
In her citation, Law professor Sara Seck said Pearson has lived his personal and professional life by showcasing decency in all he has done.
Pearson had an “unusually decent” approach to politics, she said.
“His aim was not to engage in partisan politics but rather to be a public servant working cooperatively for the public good,” Seck noted, adding he has lived a “selfless, mindful life.”
Pearson called graduates to make a concrete difference in the world.
“Some people pursue meaning; some create it. I’m looking at the creators,” he said.
Also during the ceremony the status of Distinguished University Professor was conferred upon Nursing professor Cheryl Forchuk.