Convocation season brings many smiles, some tears and a lot of hugs and handshakes.
The last of these is especially true for Dalhousie’s chancellor, the Honourable Scott Brison, P.C., who presides over each graduation ceremony — 19 of them this spring alone — and greets each new grad as they cross the Convocation stage and enter a new chapter in their life’s journey.
These latest ceremonies also mark the end of a chapter for Brison: his final duties in the chancellor role. Earlier this year, he informed the university of his plans to conclude his term, as scheduled, and not seek an extension due to work and board commitments.
“We were honoured to have Scott serve Dalhousie in this capacity during a period of great uncertainty,” says Cheryl Fraser, chair of Dalhousie’s Board of Governors. “His willingness to make time for students and share his experiences has always stood out, even before serving as chancellor, and I look forward to his continued friendship to the region, Dalhousie, and our future leaders.”
That commitment was on full display during the mid-day Faculty of Management Convocation ceremony earlier this month as Brison shared some advice with grads for the road ahead.
“Everyone has a unique story to tell based on their life experiences and being a good listener will equip you with an unlimited free education. Regardless of your immediate career path, there is no one vocation you can choose that is more important for the future of Canada or humanity than that of being a citizen,” he said.
During his time as chancellor, Brison helped more than 18,000 students celebrate the milestone achievement of convocation, sat as an ex officio member of the University’s Board of Governors, and established monthly mentorship events for students and alumni in the Faculty of Management with top Canadian business leaders.
Brison ended his Convocation remarks by sharing more of his trademark wisdom:
“You may be surprised to hear a banker say this, but money isn’t everything. But it is something. Spend less than you make so that someday you can acquire the most important thing money can buy: the freedom to choose purposeful work that improves the lives of others.”
You can watch Brison’s full convocation address here or read the full speech below.
A selection process for a new chancellor is currently underway and expected to conclude in time for Fall Convocation ceremonies.
Recommended reading: Check out profiles of some of Dal's amazing Class of 2023 grads
(L-R): Chancellor Scott Brison, Acting President Frank Harvey, Elder Thomas Christmas, Director of Indigenous Community Engagement Catherine Martin, Elder Ann LaBillois, Dr. Sara Kirk with the New Dawn Staff of Place and Belonging.
Scott Brison's Full Convocation Speech to Faculty of Management
Thirty-four years ago, I was sitting where you are today – and oh, if only I could be 34 years younger and graduating with you now, knowing what I understand today.
But that’s not possible.
The truth is, there’s only one way to get wiser – and that is through life experiences, from the all-important successes, to believe it or not, the just as important failures.
Successes and failures are events, they are not people.
I can’t go back in time and start over. But I can help you benefit from the type of mentorship and advice that has helped me immeasurably in my life and career. To help make that happen, I’ve worked with Dalhousie to create regular meetings for Dalhousie School of Business students and alumni with some of Canada’s top leaders, that Dal calls ‘Speakeasies with Scott Brison’.
Over the last year some of you seized the opportunity to hear directly from some of Canada’s top CEO’s, leaders including Annette Verschuren (one-time CEO of Home Depot Canada and now NRSTOR), Linda Hasenfratz (CEO of advanced manufacturer Linamar), and Michael McCain (Executive Chair of Maple Leaf Foods).
These transformative leaders generously provided their experiences, wisdom, and ideas with you because they want to help you be successful. Annette, a daughter of Dutch immigrants, learned the value of hard work growing up on a dairy farm in Cape Breton. Michael grew up in Florenceville in rural New Brunswick where he learned the importance of community and humility. And Linda, a one-time chair of the Business Council of Canada, who learned her business from the ground up by working for her father, an immigrant from Hungary, as a machine operator at his car parts factory.
While all had different experiences, their advice was similar.
Firstly, find purpose in your work. Work defined by purpose is as essential to life and happiness as oxygen. One recipe for success is to find something you are passionate about and devote all your efforts to it. Far more often the route to success is to find something you are interested in and have an aptitude for. Work hard at it and your passion for it will grow as you see how the positive impact of your work and your business helps to improve the lives of people, whether it be your employees, customers, or communities.
Today, more than ever before, you as graduates have a wider range of truly purposeful options in front of you. The ESG and sustainable finance movement has helped focus all companies on purpose and not solely on shareholder returns.
From fighting climate change to feeding the world sustainably, companies in clean tech, sustainable agriculture, and energy transition find purpose and are changing, and maybe even saving, the world. There are amazing success stories with roots right here at Dalhousie and in Nova Scotia that are now world leaders.
- Global XPRIZE winner Carboncure
- Battery technology leader Novonix
- Hydroponic greens producer Good Leaf
Secondly, maintain a work-life balance over your lifetime. Prioritize your mental and physical health and aspire to achieve work life balance in your daily lives. But, there may be days, weeks or even years when that is tough to achieve. The fact is, most successful people who in their 50s or 60s truly have the freedom to focus on their passions, earned that freedom by working extraordinarily hard and making sacrifices in their 20s and 30s.
Thirdly, learn every day. The best leaders are life-long learners. Your education is just beginning, embrace knowledge and have a hunger for information and be curious about things you don’t fully understand. Whether it’s from reading the Economist Magazine or other news sources -- understanding history, geopolitics, and economics will make you more valuable and make you more interesting.
It is also important to seize every opportunity to meet and learn from other people. Everyone has a unique story to tell based on their life experiences and being a good listener will equip you with an unlimited free education.
Regardless of your immediate career path, there is no one vocation you can choose that is more important for the future of Canada or humanity than that of being a citizen.
We are blessed in Canada with a combination of democratic government and a market economy. Democracy and civil society rests on people understanding and fulfilling their responsibility as citizens. Some believe that they are too busy building their business and raising their family to devote any effort to citizenship.
You can make a lot of money, and you can be a be a great parent, but if your country is underperforming, your kids’ future choices will be limited. Citizenship can be as simple as coaching minor sports or fundraising for important social causes.
But don’t neglect democracy. Politics matters.
You should follow the issues and at base level you should vote. Big decisions that impact you are being made right now. It is through global citizenship that we are finally tackling climate change -- but that is not the only inter-generational equity issue you should be concerned about. The fiscal legacy you and your children will inherit from today’s governments is something you also ought to be interested in.
Some of you have been asking me for career advice. I would say there is nothing more important to the world than to be an engaged citizen. That means to:
- Study issues
- Challenge what politicians are telling you
- And get involved in politics, whether it’s municipal, provincial, or federal and whether its directly as a candidate or active in a party or a campaign.
I’ve been an entrepreneur, investment banker, Chair of a private equity firm, a Member of Parliament, and a cabinet minister. Based on all that experience, there is nothing I have done as purposeful, impactful, and satisfying as serving Canadians.
Be engaged politically. Find candidates you can believe in, support them, help them get elected. Maybe join the political party that’s closest to your values and priorities.
But don’t check your brain at the door. Be prepared to fight for what you believe in, with patience and persistence. If you find it’s not the right party, or has become the wrong party, join another party.
Understanding politics and government will help make you a better business leader. While it’s true that very few people in government really understand business and the market economy, it’s also the case that very few businesspeople understand government. The divide between business and government has never been wider. And that is to our collective detriment.
Understanding how to get results in both business and government will make you a more successful businessperson, a better citizen, and help create a better world.
In closing, you may be surprised to hear a banker say this, but money isn’t everything. But it is something. Spend less than you make so that someday you can acquire the most important thing money can buy: the freedom to choose purposeful work that improves the lives of others.
Canada has been good to all of us. Don’t let her down. Show your gratitude to, and you love of Canada through your citizenship. Step up. Work hard to build a better Canada for all our children.
Go forward, embrace the challenges of your work and your country. Be kind, love humanity, and make a difference.
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