150 for Canada, 140 for the University of Manitoba. 50, a new label for me to wear. And 143 and 3,339, a best effort to calculate the achievement of one remarkable Canadian’s incalculable courage and determination.
Anniversaries. Milestones. Measures.
Lives that connect and intersect, gifts and responsibilities that pass from generation to generation.
The numbers are not the point. But they help. They give the mind something to hold on to while the heart connects, simmers, soars.
Having transitioned this year to the half century mark, I find myself filled with gratitude: I am tremendously blessed to live in a country like Canada—young enough to believe it can still get things better, mature enough to know the journey won’t be easy.
And blessed to make a living connecting people who care deeply about their fellows with an institution dedicated to making the world a better place.
I might not have arrived at this point were it not for the inspiration and example of the Manitoba-born hero who breathed life into the last two numbers referenced above. I speak, of course, of Terry Fox, whose heroic run—launched in my home city of St. John’s, Newfoundland, and halted not far from this province—lasted an astonishing 143 days and 3,339 miles, and who has served as a recurring polestar guiding the course of my life at unexpected junctures.
I suspect he’s played and will continue to play a similar role for millions of other Canadians too. My debt to the spirit of Terry Fox occurred to me again this winter at Government House in our nation’s capital, as I enjoyed the privilege of participating in this issue’s “Conversation with a Visionary” between President David Barnard and His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston.
In the words of the Governor General from the lively discussion that day, “the Terry Foxes of the world lift us all to do better.”
Often, that lifting is heavy, and comes at just the right time. In my case, I could never have imagined, when I was a young teenaged film extra playing in a scene re-enacting Terry Fox’s now mythical dipping of his prosthetic right leg into the Atlantic Ocean, that one day his legacy would change the trajectory of my life.
But it did, in my final year of high school, when my selection as a recipient of the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award enabled me to attend university with the financial support that facilitated my success.
The money made staying at my studies easier; but more critically, the story of the award’s namesake kept nudging me forward, holding me accountable to my best self.
It lifted me to do better.
Now, as I meet students here at the University of Manitoba who are balancing their studies with part-time jobs, family commitments, or co-curricular activities, I am similarly inspired, and committed to matching them with the opportunities that will lift them to do better.
Because ultimately they will lift us all, and our world.
In this year of anniversaries and birthdays, milestones and measures, we celebrate the numbers, but even more, we celebrate the people.
The people of this nation, no matter how they got here or who they want to be; and the people of this university, who together form a community committed to building a better tomorrow.
Happy Birthday, Canada. Happy Birthday, University of Manitoba.