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APLU Peter McPherson's Remarks at Western University's 313th Convocation

June 17, 2019

APLU President Peter McPherson delivered the address at Western University's 313th Convocation on June 10 in London, Ontario, Canada. You can read President McPherson's reamrks below. 

Thank you so much for the warm welcome, President Chakma. It’s an honor to share this day with the graduates and their families, and to be with the administrators, faculty, and staff of this great institution.

I have fond memories of my time in Canada over the years, and a highlight of my career was serving as one of the negotiators of the Canada-U.S. Trade Agreement.

It’s wonderful to be here to help celebrate the accomplishment of you, the graduates, from this remarkable institution. In the months and years ahead, you’ll carry with you an education that has unlocked opportunities – opportunities you may not even yet know. I urge you to find what truly engages you. Ultimately, achievement by itself is not worth all the hard work usually required without enjoying the struggle along the way.

The relationships you’ve built here will leave a lasting impression. Friends, professors, classmates – they’ve all shaped who you are. Throughout your entire life, you will remember the things that you have learned here – well, perhaps not all of it – but you will be surprised how often you recall what a professor said, what you read here, and what the friends you made here mean to you.

All this during good and perhaps during challenging times as well. Your experience here is part of your identity. And what’s true of personal and institutional relationships can be true also of ties between countries, like the United States and Canada. It’s a long-term relationship.

Just as common experiences of people build permanent bonds, countries build permanent bonds too. I am particularly pleased to give this commencement because I want to say here in Canada that Canada and the U.S. have a bond that requires care and upkeep, but is ultimately unbreakable because of the ties we’ve built. We’re irrevocably linked.

Our countries are bound together not just by a common border, key mutual interests, and common challenges, but also by our societies’ shared values. We have a linked fate. Even if there is bump now and then, those linkages are irrevocable.

Think of the deepening economic ties. Trade and economic relationships have expanded dramatically with the Auto Pact many decades ago, then the Canada-U.S. Trade agreement in 1987, and a few years later with NAFTA. And I assume we will continue to have a strong trade agreement.

Those agreements have greatly expanded economic ties from North to South and South to North within the region. The agreements have historic consequences. There continues to be great expansion of travel and people-to-people connections within the region. This full growth of partnerships and relationships between our counties is hard to quantify. But the benefits are immeasurable.

And it wouldn’t be possible without Canadian leadership. This country’s wisdom and engagement is critical for the whole region’s success. I can tell you from personal knowledge that there would not have been a separate trade agreement between the U.S. and Mexico had Canada not been there. In North American cooperation, Canada was the balance – the valued partner – that made NAFTA possible. NAFTA has strengthened us all, and we need to keep an appropriate regional agreement in place.

I also want to tell you how important Canada is to the world. Across the world, Canada stands for human rights, individual freedom and democracy, and against autocracy. I have worked around the U.S. and the world. I can tell you that Canada’s values and advocacy make a difference. Frankly, Canadian advocacy is more important today than at any time since the end of the Cold War.

Of course, the U.S. and Canadian governments have occasional differences. But I have always thought that Canada and its people stood firm on the key values. I appreciate the openness to diversity and immigration here in Canada. History around the world bears out that diversity can be enormously productive and enriching for a society.

Today, I look at cities like Toronto, Vancouver, and so many other communities in Canada and see the value of that diversity on vivid display. I see the same at Canadian universities. Of course, I stand here with your president, who was born in Bangladesh. Congratulations, Mr. President, for all that you have done to further internationalize this university and so much else.

In the U.S., I look at Silicon Valley, Boston, and so many other communities large and small where immigrations are enriching the U.S. economically and socially.

Now, what does all this mean to you the graduates? Values and principles are not the sort of thing you can announce and tuck away somewhere. History of every country and community shows that values and principles must be nurtured and fought for year after year and generation after generation.

It is now your turn to help advance these values as you go about your lives in your community and workplace and in your country. Some of you will have careers in public service, which I personally have found so rewarding. Others will engage in a rich panorama of endeavors, and all careers will present great opportunities and engaging challenges.

In the coming days and weeks, this class of 2019 will fan out across Ontario, Canada, and the globe to tackle some of the world’s most stubborn problems. We urgently need your work and leadership. I’m optimistic about the future. I look out at you and see what a bright future the world can have. I know we’re in safe hands.

So today, you’re starting a new chapter in life. Until now, you and this university have had a temporary relationship. But when your degree is conferred today, you will have a forever relationship with Western University. Western will always be part of you.

Come home often.

Thank you for inviting me. Congratulations to you, the Class of 2019.

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