Jennifer Flanagan’s Convocation Address to Concordia Graduates
July 15, 2022
Using your privilege and your skills to make a difference.
Last month, I had the honour of attending Concordia’s 2022 convocation ceremonies, where I was presented an Honorary Doctorate of Science from the Gina Cody School of Computer Science and Engineering (as announced in the spring of 2020) and had the privilege of addressing the graduating class.
Throughout the entire experience, I was blown away by the genuine kindness, impeccable stewardship and remarkable sense of compassion demonstrated by the staff and students. I have always admired Concordia for its progressive thinking and commitment to achieving equity, diversity and inclusion throughout the school, but I will now add their all-around warmth and generosity to the list of things I admire about them.
The convocation ceremony was a special day for not only myself but my family and friends who were also in attendance. I couldn’t help but feel a particular sense of pride the moment I got to introduce my two young daughters to the renowned Dr. Gina Cody – the first woman ever to be awarded a Ph.D. in building engineering at Concordia and an inspiring role model to girls and young women everywhere.
I wanted to take a moment to share the inspiring words I presented to the graduating class in my convocation address. I have summarized those words below, but encourage you to watch my full address in the following video:
Jennifer Flanagan, 2022 Concordia Convocation Address
To STEM graduates everywhere.
There’s no question that the past few years have been extremely difficult for you. You were supposed to have been enjoying a time of personal growth and freedom, but the pandemic came and changed it all. I have talked a lot about how Actua has witnessed increased mental health issues and dwindling confidence and motivation levels among youth in our recent #BuildBackConfidence campaign.
But, while SO much of what has happened in recent years is tragic, I firmly believe there is hope. And that hope lies within STEM, and it lies within all of you.
One of my earliest memories is going to the engineering building at the University of New Brunswick with my Dad, an engineer who also taught engineering at UNB for decades. Although I didn’t understand at all what an engineer did at that young age, I knew he was a leader, solved problems, and made a measurable impact on the communities he served. From there, I quickly realized that I, too, wanted to lead and make an impact.
One day, during my first year of biology at the University of New Brunswick, I saw a post that said, “Hey, want to start an engineering camp for kids?”. The poster caught my attention at a time when I was realizing more and more just how privileged I was. I knew that thanks to people like my dad and, let’s face it, the colour of my skin and economic status, it was easy for me to see myself in STEM.
That following summer, I travelled around the province to every small, rural First Nations community, talking to kids about the power of science. I was blown away by their curiosity, boldness, questions and unique world views. That summer, I not only realized the massive inequities that existed but saw them firsthand. I saw the racism built into the very systems meant to educate and prepare them for the world. I also understood that hands-on STEM programs, like Actua’s, could give youth meaningful ways to share their ideas, reignite their hope and confidence in the world, and show them that with STEM skills, they could create the change they wanted in their community.
And that is exactly what I want to remind you of today.
The world needs STEM, and STEM needs you. You, having built the skills you have today, now hold the power to not only engineer and design our post-pandemic world but (re)engineer and (re)design the culture of STEM fields - to make them more inclusive and diverse.
Some of you got here easily, while others had to overcome significant barriers. But you are now in a place where you can use your privilege and voice to fight for things that really matter. And what matters now, more than ever is breaking down barriers for others and showing the world just how truly transformational STEM fields can be.
So, my call to action for you – the next generation of leaders and innovators – is this:
- Move forward with everything you do with unrelenting hope
- Challenge the status quo as loudly and often as you can
- Use your skills to change the world in ways that make YOU happy
- Seek to advance equity, diversity in inclusion in everything you do. Consider:
- asking the companies you apply to tough questions about their diversity and inclusivity work and policies;
- researching how many women and other minorities are on their board; and
- remembering to make space for diverse voices in everything you do.
Using your privilege in these small ways will make a remarkable difference – not only for those who face barriers but for all of us – our country – who will benefit greatly from more diversity in these fields.
It was an absolute pleasure to stand in front of the graduating class and give those remarks. I am beyond grateful to have been recognized by Concordia University and consider it a great honour to have been welcomed into their family. As a go-to thought leader and advocate here in Canada, I plan to leverage this degree to further advance my work advocating for inclusive, high-impact STEM education and skill development opportunities for youth, and I will remain forever indebted to Concordia University for recognizing and celebrating these efforts.
President and CEO