Virtual convocation celebrates achievements of 7,976 new graduates

Principal Fortier urges Class of 2021 to help reshape society using the skills, knowledge, insights and leadership they learned at McGill  

Even a global pandemic can’t prevent graduation from being a monumental milestone. Nor can it stop the McGill community from celebrating the outstanding achievements of our graduating students.

In spite of all the unprecedented challenges students faced during the past year, McGill will confer degrees on 7,976 graduates this spring, an uptick from the 7,830 grads in the spring of 2020.

Over the course of today and tomorrow, the University will be hosting 10 virtual pre-recorded ceremonies, one for each Faculty, on a rolling basis. The full schedule is here.

In the benefit-drawback calculus created by the virtual world, the ceremonies allowed participants to attend from all over the world, many of whom could not have been physically present on campus. On June 18 and 19 last year, the virtual ceremonies garnered 27,000 views. This year’s figures will be available shortly after convocation, but the 10 celebrations promise to be another blockbuster event. The class of 2021 includes graduates from 122 countries – the top five being Canada, China, the U.S., France and India.

You can watch the Spring 2021 Virtual Convocation here.

The first graduating class of McGill’s third century

In his final year overseeing Convocation as McGill Chancellor, Michael A. Meighen commended the Class of 2021 for their hard work, commitment, sacrifice and success.

“Every graduate keeps with them a memory of their graduation,” said Chancellor Meighen, who noted that these newly minted alums have an additional special distinction of receiving their degrees during McGill’s Bicentennial year. On March 31, McGill turned 200, making it one of the oldest and most venerated universities in Canada.

“Yours will certainly be different, but it will also be unique. In the history of McGill, there can only be one Bicentennial graduating class and you are it!”

Principal Suzanne Fortier congratulated the graduating students for having faced down “one of the biggest health crises the world has ever seen… with the same strength and resilience that brought you here today.”

Fortier suggested “a short to-do list” for graduating scholars: pat themselves on the back and thank all those who helped get them to where they are; take time to reconnect with friends and family; and help shape the future by using the skills, knowledge, insights and leadership they learned at McGill.

“To the class of 2021, know that you have joined a great network, the global network of McGill alumni,” said Fortier. “As the first graduating class of McGill’s third century, you have a very special place in our history.”

Looking for inspiration

Prof. Madhukar Pai, this year’s Convocation speaker, made an impassioned, heartfelt plea to tackle the inherent inequities of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is battering poorer countries much more harshly, notably India, his country of origin. His own family in India is battling the virus, he noted.

Pai, who is the Canada Research Chair in Epidemiology & Global Health and director of the McGill Global Health Programs, conceded at the outset that he would disappoint students expecting soothing words of inspiration or career advice.

COVID “has ravaged the poor and the disadvantaged, and the racialized communities in our country and in all parts of the world.”

“Honestly, I’m looking for inspiration myself these days,” Pai added.

He condemned the “scientific and moral failures” that are “transforming [the world] into the vaccine-haves and the vaccine-have-nots… Less than one percent of the vaccines so far have gone to low-income countries.”

“Uncontrolled outbreaks anywhere in the world will generate new variants, which will come back and haunt us in the future. We must end this pandemic everywhere, not just within our cities or our countries.”

He warned that mistakes must not be repeated in the fight against the other existential threat, climate change.

“The only inspiration I can find is young people such as you,” Pai said. “Young people today are able to see more clearly and further than many leaders are able to or willing to.”

His 13-year-old daughter, who marched in Montreal in September 2019 with climate activist Greta Thunberg, told him that “ ‘Your generation screwed up the planet for my generation.’ I had to agree with her.”

“Your generation cares more about social justice and equity than the older generations.”

“The world needs people like you to chart a new way- a new path that is built on global citizenship, global solidarity, and compassion for all people in all countries, regardless of race, religion, or colour.”