It’s so good to be home.
But, it’s nothing like I imagined it would be.
Ten months ago, when I accepted the offer to serve as UM’s 12th president, I knew we would take on great challenges. I knew we would need to be resilient and innovative. But until COVID-19 began to spread, I looked forward to a very different picture of working together.
Many of you—alumni, faculty, deans, staff and students—have met with me virtually, and these conversations have been so valuable. Whether we have a history, or it’s our introduction, there’s a connection—a shared belief that our work matters and that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. This is evident in our formal meetings, and in the surprise handful of in-person interactions I’ve been able to have.
On one occasion, I was walking with my wife, Kim, when we came across an alumnus playing outside with his grandchildren. When he recognized us, he smiled at how ‘small’ our city really is and said, “This is why we live in Winnipeg.”
As I read the pages of this Fall’s digital issue of UM Today the Magazine, especially the stories of our Distinguished Alumni Award recipients and their impact in our province, I see many of us share that commitment to community. We choose to live here, or return often, because of our connections—and the University of Manitoba is at the heart of so many of them.
This fall, UM will hold our second virtual convocation, shining a light on the incredible accomplishments of our newest alumni and all they will achieve going forward. We have found a safe and meaningful way to confer degrees, but I know many look forward to when we can celebrate in person again.
I reflect, in a different way now, on my own student experience, and the value of the interpersonal. I think often about the new and unexpected disruptions UM students today must overcome in their studies and the job market they are moving into. Making friends and forging connections is such an integral part of university; we can’t allow the nature of this disease to drive us apart.
Thank you to the UM alumni who continue to step forward to engage meaningfully with our students, including through mentorship or work-integrated learning. Even as we follow social distancing, events are taking place to build community, to align future and recent grads with employers or to match problems with the people who can solve them. I welcome you to get involved. Incredible progress is possible when we collaborate and connect.
We see this in the inspiring and tragic stories shared by Anishinaabe student Angelina McLeod, whose advocacy supported the construction of a permanent, safe road connecting her community of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation to the Trans-Canada Highway. Cultivating connection is also about confronting the realities that divide us, as we read about lawyer and faculty member Karen Busby’s work to address inequities among migrant workers, or the perspective climatologist Julienne Stroeve shares on the disproportionate effects of climate change.
The global pandemic is exacerbating systemic problems and also inviting us to find new ways to connect and heal. Our alumni, faculty and students are showing up and taking on these challenges in Winnipeg, Manitoba and around the world. I’m proud and grateful to be part of it.
I realize, now more than ever, this is why I chose to be here—this is why I returned to Winnipeg and to the University of Manitoba.
If you see me out in the community—wearing a mask in the grocery store, or enjoying Assiniboine Park—please stop and connect. There is nothing more meaningful to my wife and me than this community that embraces us and calls on one another to act.
UM is a global network of people tackling immense challenges wherever they are, but at its core is each individual connection. I’ll never take that for granted.
It’s truly so good to be home.