Today’s graduates must always seek the human dimension in all things, said Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Ontario’s 29th Lieutenant Governor.
It is easy to look upon the world and emerge a pessimist, Dowdeswell stressed, but she remains “eternally optimistic” because extraordinary people, united in a common cause can do extraordinary things.
Dowdeswell spoke to graduates from King’s University College and the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the Tuesday, June 9, afternoon session of Western’s 305th Convocation.
Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LLD) upon Dowdeswell in recognition her distinguished career in public service.
We must transcend our differences to bring people together for global wellness, she told the graduates. “It is imperative we are not disinterested, just mere observers of the change taking place around us,” she continued. “Hope begins when we have a willingness to change. Justice, injustice to one, is justice, injustice to all.”
The span of Dowdeswell’s career has touched provincial, federal and international borders, focusing on engaging the public in policymaking, seeking innovation in the successful management of organizations through change, and strengthening communications and education as a means to achieve results.
Dowdeswell, an Officer of the Order of Canada and a Member of the Order of Ontario, led a number of public inquiries into social issues such as Canada’s unemployment benefits program and its federal water policy. Her early career included terms as Deputy Minister of Culture and Youth for the Province of Saskatchewan, educational consultant, university lecturer and high school teacher.
She also served as the executive director of the United Nations Environment Program and undersecretary general of the United Nations and at home, she was assistant deputy Minister of Environment Canada, responsible for the national weather and atmospheric agency and negotiation of the Framework Convention on Climate Change.
“Learn to expect the unexpected. There is no simple set of instructions on how to proceed in turbulent times. Be open to all possibilities and develop resilience,” she said.
Dowdeswell’s former international consulting practice likewise tackled complex issues of social importance, such as bridging contributions of science and technology to public policy. She has dedicated her career to engaging Ontario in a discussion of generating social inclusion, environmental stewardship and economic prosperity.
Once the president and CEO of the Council of Canadian Academies, an organization that provides independent, knowledge and science-based assessments to inform public policy development in Canada, Dowdeswell was also the founding president and CEO of Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization, where her work contributed to the long-term management of Canada’s used nuclear fuel.
She holds 10 honorary degrees and has received numerous awards, including the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, the Memorial Gold Medal from Charles University in Prague, the Medal of Honor from the United Nations Association in Canada, the University of Saskatchewan 100 Alumni of Influence Award and a Trudeau Mentorship with the Trudeau Foundation.
In his citation, King’s Principal David Sylvester called Dowdeswell an “inspiring leader, who has, for many decades, embodied the noble commitment to serve the common good.”
“She has dedicated her current efforts to facilitating the very public conversation of what it means to be a citizen of our province and country. In her words, (she) has set out to make her office a ‘crucible of ideas, bringing multiple perspectives to the table to encourage innovation and cultivate new ideas, sparking action and commitment to seeing these ideas move forward,’” Sylvester said.
“In these few words, she has captured the very purpose of the university and the specific goals of the liberal arts education you have enjoyed at King’s, namely to invite and cultivate new ways of thinking and to develop these ideas in the service of society.”
“The only ending to your story is the one you make up for yourself. Stand on the cracks in between; know you’ve been blessed,” Dowdeswell said.
Also during the ceremony, Sociology professor Joe Michalski was awarded the King’s University College Award for Excellence in Teaching by Full-Time Faculty, while Political Science professor emeritus Sid Noel received the King’s University College Award for Excellence in Teaching by Part-Time Faculty.
The title of professor emeritus was also conferred upon Political Science professor Tozun Bahcheli and History professor Paul Webb.