Romel Dhalla: 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient for Service to the University of Manitoba
The recipients of the 2019 University of Manitoba Distinguished Alumni Awards are graduates who are outstanding in their professional and personal lives. These honourees encompass a wide range of achievement, innovation and community service and inspire fellow alumni, current students and the community.
IN HIS OWN WORDS
I exist because of the University of Manitoba. Arnold Naimark, the U of M’s former president and dean of medicine, recruited dad to the department of physiology. He thought that a turbaned Sikh fellow he met on a boardwalk in Atlanta was the right recruit for his department. It was visionary!
As the youngest child, I had no pressure to be anything other than to just get good grades … and I didn’t even do that.
My friends were Transformers, bugs, Spock from Star Trek and my music.
I had my own internal pressure because all of my siblings did well and my parents did well, so that’s the only standard I knew.
We are born to be our parents, right? I hope I can live up to them. I’m trying my damndest.
Academics was never my priority. I certainly found many other distractions. I hated studying stuff I didn’t like and I did poorly in areas that I wasn’t interested in. What mattered the most was satisfying my own interests and student politics was a major one of mine.
It took years to make small changes as a student but I’m proud of what we were able to collectively put together, like University 1 Student Council, Asper’s corporate fundraising program, and developing a student leadership award.
Maybe this is a genetic thing because it’s not like my dad talked to me about committee meetings. My dad built two international societies of research. But I knew he was involved and so I figured it was normal.
After I graduated I think I just felt that the university could be more. That there was better value to be derived from post-secondary education. It was important to me. I love the university so much that I want it to be a better place.
As much as I wanted to change the university, you have to be very sensitive to the people who are there because changes have costs: human costs. The chancellors and staff that I had the exposure to really taught me this. There’s a real cost to cuts, there’s a real cost to closing departments or shifting things around.
That’s one thing I’m really proud of: the culture of the university. I truly believe the university looks after its people exceptionally well.
I always tell people that I got the equivalent of an MBA sitting at the board table with Emőke Szathmáry. She taught me how to see the big picture, how to take data and analyze it critically and then make decisions on it. I regard her as one of the most intelligent people I’ve encountered.
One thing my dad always told me was you have to have friends because friends will always pull you up. Friends will make you stronger.
The whole time I was at university, either me or my friends were involved in student politics. We basically ran the show. Over time, we became best friends, like brothers. The Manitoban compared us to the G8 so we refer to ourselves as that.
We call ourselves the Gs, and that’s one of the coolest things that’s survived the U of M. The eight of us meet every year to remember those that mentored us, like Izzy Asper, Harold Buchwald and Ed Anderson. We have awards for the worst performer and the best performer among our ranks – the ball-dropper and the ball-catcher awards.
There was a fellow named Dr. Jim Gardner who I met though the Senate and the committees I was on. He gave a speech one time where he apologized – I believe this was in regards to the faculty strike at the time. I went to him afterwards to say how remarkable it was; I mean, you don’t really see people doing that every day: admitting they’re wrong. And he said “Romel, the best thing I can tell you in life is to apologize immediately and sincerely if you’re wrong.”
I follow that advice because it takes off so much; it allows you to move forward and it’s a way to be humble instead of arrogant. That’s always stayed with me because how do you do the right thing all the time? You can’t; you’re going to screw up. And when you screw up, you’ve got to make it right.
About Romel Dhalla
Even during his days as a student at the U of M, Romel Dhalla [BA/99, BComm(Hons)/04], was a passionate supporter of his alma mater. He founded the University 1 Student Council, led a campaign for an award for student leadership and was a tireless champion of many important causes at the U of M. But the involvement and dedication of this two-time alumnus didn’t stop there. He was elected by alumni to serve on the University of Manitoba Board of Governors. He served for nine years where his advocacy of the U of M in the community, on campus and in the eyes of government contributed greatly to the betterment of the university.
The University of Manitoba will recognize the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients for their outstanding achievements and contributions at the Celebration of Excellence gala on Wednesday, May 8, 2019.
Tickets are $85 and can be purchased online or by calling Alumni Relations at 204-474-9946, or toll free in Canada, 1-800-668-4908.