German Alumna, Mentor & Donor <br>Joan Andersen holds speech at Faculty of Arts & Science Scholarship Reception

German Alumna, Mentor & Donor
Joan Andersen holds speech at Faculty of Arts & Science Scholarship Reception

Speech to University of Toronto – April 2, 2014

Thank you, Dean Cameron. It is a great privilege for me to share my thoughts about the value of education in living a satisfying and rewarding personal and professional life, as well as the importance of  ‘giving back’.

Let’s start with a few details about my ‘story’ – I am the daughter of two immigrants who came to Canada from Denmark in the early 1950s in search of a better life for themselves and their future family.  I’m also the first in my family to earn a university degree.

I attribute that to my parents, who like many of you present today, believed that the road to ensuring their children had a better life than they did was education – and specifically, a focus on academic excellence.

That’s how, like those students we are honoring today, I entered  U of T on a scholarship.

Now, we hear a lot today about the importance of pursuing studies that prepare us for a specific career.  Let me give you my spin on this – I never had any clear image of my future career during my studies. I did however have lots of maybes.

I studied for the sheer joy of learning, and took advantage of every opportunity that came my way, especially those that forced me to move outside my comfort zone.

Let me give you one example – in my third year of German studies, two of my professors approached me with the idea of completing one of my course credits by acting in a German play.  At the time, I was so afraid of my own shadow that I could barely make a presentation in class let alone on stage.

While, it would have been easier to say no – and explain that this was beyond my ability, my professors and parents convinced me to give it a try and so it came to pass that I ended up in the starring role of two short German plays.

Walking through that door and embracing that opportunity, resulted in developing significant competencies which later made it possible for me to become a Teaching Assistant while pursuing my Masters degree, and to continue to pursue my passion for teaching throughout my entire life and even in retirement.

This brings me to an important conclusion which I have reached about the value of education – for many of us, it’s not about learning in preparation for a specific career – it’s more about focussing on the soft or transferable skills which we learn in the course of pursuing our studies, which can be applied to a myriad of jobs or careers.

I’m talking about skills such as planning & organizing, research, valuing diversity, analysis, communication skills both in person and on paper or electronic media, and even leadership in terms of participating in university life.

The bottom line for me is that the success and fulfillment which I have achieved in my life is a direct result of my education, and specifically the University of Toronto. Wherever I have gone around the world, the mention of being a graduate of this institution has garnered immediate respect and opened many doors for me.  This university is recognized worldwide as a prestigious educational institution.

I believe that this recognition has developed over the years as a result of what I call a 3 prong ‘winning partnership’:

  1. A great faculty which is dedicated to sharing knowledge and wisdom, and inspiring students, many of whom will become the next generation of ‘academia’.
  2. Great alumni dedicated to ensuring the continuity of this institution through involvement and ‘giving back’.
  3. Great students such as those of you present today, who supported by your proud parents and family, are dedicated to learning and taking excellence to the next level.

And, that brings me to my final point about the ‘importance of giving back’.  As I approached retirement a few years ago, my life came full circle, and I began to understand the very real need to give back so future students could benefit from a world class education the way that I did.

And, I began to consider how I could ‘give back’.  I decided to participate in the ‘b to B Program’, to act as a mentor when called upon, to donate money, and to include this university in my will.

In my opinion, we can no longer count on taxpayers, students and their families and parents to foot the bill for post-secondary education.

So I will end my comments with a two-part challenge to the students in the audience:

  1. Pursue your studies with passion and when you graduate, commit to using your knowledge to strive for excellence in your personal and professional lives.
  2. In the future, take the torch which the current alumni will pass to you, and remember to ‘give back’ in your own way and time.

Congratulations on your achievement and best wishes for a bright and fulfilling future!