Keep learning and stay optimistic: Naylor

While a challenging and uncertain time, David Naylor also told graduates it is a period of huge promise that will offer wonderful opportunities and great adventures.

“Not only do you have a degree, but you have the most precious gift of all, it’s the future,” he says. “While I don’t know how the next 40 years will unfold for you, this much I do know, the best is yet to come.”

Naylor spoke to approximately 540 graduates from faculties of Science, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies at the June 16 afternoon session of Western’s 297th Convocation.

The University of Western Ontario conferred an honorary Doctor of Law upon Naylor, internationally recognized as a leader in the fields of academe, health services research and evidence-based health and social policy. He is currently president of the University of Toronto.

He told graduates he is humbled to be sharing this occasion with them, and is envious of the fact a bright future lies ahead for all the students.

“I don’t have to tell you that Western is a very special institution that has a tradition of excellence in research and education and a superb focus on the student experience. Each of you are now part of this longstanding legacy,” Naylor says. “This is such a fascinating and challenging time in human history. Information is not the same as knowledge, and it a long journey from knowledge to wisdom. But you, however, have a serious head start.”

Naylor was born in Woodstock and received his MD from the University of Toronto in 1978 and, as a Rhodes Scholar, earned a Doctor of Philosophy at Oxford University in the Faculty of Social and Administrative Studies in 1983. He also has ties to Western where he studied internal medicine and clinical epidemiology.

He joined the faculty at the University of Toronto in 1988 and quickly climbed the ranks, being appointed dean of its Faculty of Medicine in 1999, and becoming the 15th president of the university in 2005.

Naylor has advised governments on policy issues over the last 15 years and served as chair of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health. The committee’s report sparked the creation of the Public Health Agency of Canada, major new federal investments in public health, and the appointment of Canada’s first chief public health officer.

As president of the University of Toronto, he has heard more than 150 convocation speeches himself and knows it is common to offer graduates life-changing advice. So he made a list of four pieces of advice to propose.

“First, never eat anything bigger than your head,” he jokes. “Keep learning and never stop because an active brain will keep you young. Don’t look back too often, because the happiest and most successful people are those who focus on the task at hand and savour the moment; but, please do look forward once and a while. And stay optimistic. There will be bumps in the road, but life has a remarkable way of working out.”

Naylor was also the founding chief executive officer of the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, an organization that has played a key role in providing scientific insights to help policymakers, managers, practitioners and other researchers shape the future direction of the Ontario health-care system.

The co‐author of approximately 300 scholarly publications, spanning social history, public policy, epidemiology, health economics, and clinical and health services research in various fields of medicine, Naylor is an Officer of the Order of Canada, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the Canada Academy of Health Sciences, and a Foreign Associate Fellow of the U.S. Institute of Medicine.

Naylor shared with the graduates that good things come to those who wait. He spoke of his time at a summer job at a Woodstock curtain rod factory.

“I remember rushing to the mail and was bitterly disappointed when I opened a rejection notice from Western’s MD program. It was my first rejection notice, but not my last,” he laughs. “Today, 37 years later, I finally got a doctorate from this great university. I am thankful to Western for remembering a wayward son today.”

In her citation, Pathology professor Bertha Garcia says Naylor has always had a way of getting quickly to the heart of the matter.

“He’s highly analytical and always finds a path forward which will be both principled and politically wise,” she says. “He says it as he sees it. And he delivers.”

As part of the ceremony, the status of Professor Emeritus was conferred upon Michael Cook, Michael Dawes and Jonathan Hore. The Edward G. Pleva Award for Excellence in Teaching was presented to Tom Stavraky.