With his hand on his heart, Deep Saini humbly acknowledged the standing ovation he received at the end of yesterday’s ceremony officially installing him as McGill’s 18th Principal and Vice-Chancellor.
Saini wore his heart on his sleeve throughout the morning event. He paused during his speech to fight back tears any number of times – when thanking his family for their support; when listing the accomplishments of McGill alumni; when renewing McGill’s commitment to bettering the world; and when expressing his joy at returning to Montreal.
“McGill is a preeminent Canadian university that ranks among the very best in the world and yet it is also deeply and proudly rooted right here in Quebec,” said the Principal. “For over two centuries, our University, through our high-quality teaching and scholarly pursuits, has left an indelible mark both at home and around the world.
“When we think about McGill’s accomplishments over time, one thing is strikingly clear – the relentless pursuit of excellence is embedded in our DNA.”
Traditions and ceremony
Held in the same tent that will host 13 Convocation ceremonies over six days, the Installation was high on pomp and circumstance. Led by two bagpipers from the Black Watch, the large platform party included representatives from partner institutions in Canada, the U.S. and abroad; Honorary Degree recipients; and representatives from the McGill community, including Principals Emeriti Heather Munroe-Blum and Suzanne Fortier.
Following the traditional Iroquoian Opening delivered by Elder Kevin Ka’nahsohon Deer; and the singing of the University Song by Matthew Trevin; John McCall MacBain, McGill Chancellor and emcee for the day, delivered his opening remarks.
“Professor Saini’s appointment as the Principal of McGill University is a testament to his outstanding achievements, unwavering dedication, and visionary leadership,” said Chancellor McCall MacBain. “With a distinguished academic career spanning decades, he has made significant contributions to the fields of agriculture, life sciences, and academia at large. Professor Saini’s wealth of experience, expertise, and passion for education make him the perfect candidate to guide McGill into a new era of growth and achievement.”
The Chancellor then invested Professor Saini with the office and title of Principal and Vice-Chancellor.
One of the more touching moments in the ceremony came when Principal Emerita Suzanne Fortier joined Professor Saini at centre stage to assist with the removal of his PhD robes and the donning of his Principal’s regalia. Bursting into cheers, the crowd rose from their seats in a standing ovation.
Clearly moved, Principal Saini mouthed the words “thank you” to the audience and blew kisses to his family members.
Leading with grace, energy, and wisdom
To mark his return to Montreal, Principal Saini was serenaded with a rendition of Robert Charlebois’ Je reviendrai à Montréal performed by singer Charlotte Désilets and guitarist Ricardo Picanco, both students at the Schulich School of Music.
Following the musical interlude, various representatives delivered greetings to Principal Saini.
Daniel Jutras, Rector of l’Université de Montréal, and former Dean of McGill’s Faculty of Law, spoke first.
“McGill University is one of the great universities of the world. Its exceptional scholars take part in the global conversations that can make the world safer and healthier for our children and their children,” said Jutras. “McGill trains the next generation of scientists, as well as future global and community leaders. Its contributions to our future lives are, and will be, immeasurable.”
“For years to come, Principal Deep Saini will carry the unique voice of this world-class university in all circles, to all people and places,” he said. “He will do so, with grace, energy, and wisdom, just like his predecessors in a long line of men and women beginning with George Mountain all the way to up Heather Munroe-Blum, and Suzanne Fortier who have put McGill University in this place of honour.”
“We will stand behind you in your pursuit of excellence”
Anja Geitmann, Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, spoke on behalf of the University’s faculty members. “You arrive at a time that sees McGill thriving. Through our research and teaching activities we address many challenges – and opportunities – that the 21st century brings for society and humankind,” said Dean Geitmann. “This dynamic period coincides with the beginning of the University’s third century – an opportune moment for the institution to position itself with regards to its local and global roles. We look forward to your participation in ongoing developments and in the exploration of new opportunities. We are confident under your leadership McGill will rise to new heights.”
“Principal Saini, I speak on behalf of all McGill academics in welcoming you to our community, and in ensuring you that we will stand behind you in your pursuit of excellence for our University, and for wishing you – and us – the very best in the years to come. Thank you for choosing to join McGill University.”
The newly installed Principal was pressed into service almost immediately. As part of the ceremony, Principal Saini helped confer three honorary degrees to Drew Feustel, Alexina Louie, and Drew Hayden Taylor.
Celebrating the past, present, and future of McGill
Not surprisingly, Principal Saini closed the event with an impassioned speech.
He celebrated McGill’s past by highlighting some of the University’s great successes – the 12 Nobel laureates, the 147 Rhodes scholars, the more than 120 Olympians, the three Prime Ministers, two Governor Generals, and 15 Supreme Court justices. He joked that, with the Honorary Doctorate being conferred to astronaut Andrew Feustel, McGill now had six astronauts in its fold – seven if you count William Shatner or Star Trek fame.
Principal Saini spoke of present-day McGill with obvious pride, his voice sometimes cracking with emotion. “Today, McGill comprises three campuses, 13 faculties, 14 schools, and 11 major affiliated teaching hospitals. We are home to a diverse community some 50,000 strong of students, faculty members, and administrative and support staff,” he said. “Our researchers are advancing the frontiers of knowledge in a wide variety of fields. Their work was supported just this past year by nearly $700 million in external research funding. We have over 300,000 alumni in nearly every country of the world. Eight of them have gone on to lead their own countries.”
Principal Saini closed his address looking toward McGill’s future and its ongoing commitment to “the service of humanity.”
Listing some of the most complex challenges facing the world today – including climate change, public health, energy, food security, environmental sustainability, and global order and security – the Principal said solutions will be equally complex. “These solutions will be found only through collaborative, partnered, and concerted efforts,” he said.
“When it comes to the role of universities in this regard, McGill not only offers the breadth and depth of its expertise, but even more important, this bench strength that McGill has confers upon it the convening ability to bring key partners to the table to solve problems. This is critical both for seeking solutions, and for educating the talented individuals who will lead us to these solutions in the next generations.”
“I have never, ever been more excited about a cause, the company [of people], and a place,” said Principal Saini in closing, voice choking with emotion. “I look forward to all of us – all of us – travelling together on this exciting journey that lies ahead. Here’s to McGill!”
Below is a photo gallery of the Installation ceremony