“We can make Canada even better.” This was a statement I heard repeated many times, and from many people, at Converge 2017, a conference held in Ottawa this past February which brought current and future community and thought leaders together to explore what Canada can become in the next 50 years.
I heard it from the older generation of participants in the conference, like Governor General David Johnston, and from the younger people assembled to share their views on the future of this nation, such as the University of Manitoba students who attended—Samantha Blatz and Allison Kilgour.
For me, the very construction of the statement reflects the characteristics that will serve us well as we pursue our collective dreams and goals.
There is pride in the statement, in the assumption that we are a worthy nation already, today, capable of making good things happen here and around the world, but there is also humility in the recognition that we need to do, and to be, even better.
That balance between pride and humility appeals to me, and I suspect it appeals to many Canadians. We do not yearn for a nostalgic, illusory past, because we are self-aware enough to confront the faults and flaws that have tarnished our history, most notably in the treatment of Indigenous peoples. At the same time, we feel that we are getting more than a few things right, that the way we live and accept difference and remain open to change makes this country special, one that people from around the world have been and continue to be attracted to.
Marking an anniversary—whether the nation’s 150th or the University of Manitoba’s 140th—allows us at once to assess our past and to contemplate our future. Bringing humility to the task helps assure we remain clear-minded, honest and—we can hope—accurate in our assessments and conclusions.
What we seek when we strive to do even better, when we open ourselves up to the future and acknowledge the value but also the sins of the past, is renewal—a process that of course we see playing itself out around us every day in the natural world.
But renewal also informs our social and civic spheres.
Almost 50 years ago, when I first stepped onto a university campus as a student, I found myself surrounded by the fervour of an era of protest and demonstration, sitting in classes with young Americans who had come north to escape the Vietnam War.
It was a time of change for universities, the nation and the world. Having attended Converge 2017 and listened to the compelling thoughts and vision of our own students and those from other universities across the country, I am convinced that this generation possesses the intelligence, the passion and the confidence to bring about a renewal of equal or, frankly, more vigour and vitality.
These committed young people are not afraid to ask difficult, challenging questions. They are unwilling to be content with problems left unsolved, with things that need to change. Thoughtful and considered, they are also principled and resolute. They recognize that a number of our aspirations for this country are worth sticking with, but we need to keep trying, and perhaps change course, to achieve them.
We are not what we should or can be, as a nation, as universities. Because we can be even better.
Let us embrace renewal; the people to make it happen are right here. This anniversary year belongs to all of us who have memories from the years we look back upon; but it belongs as much to those, our students, who will secure our future. They will make things even better. Happy Birthday, University of Manitoba. Bonne Fête, Canada.