Principals Installation Address
Your Grace Chancellor Collins, President Anderson, Dean Gertler, Mr. MacKinnon, Professor Boyle, distinguished colleagues, family and friends.
I stand behind this lectern humbled by the solemnity of the ceremony that has just taken place and moved by your expression of solidarity, and I am emboldened by the words that I have just pronounced in taking my oath of office.
I am fully conscious of the honour that comes with the office, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve St. Michaels College as its fifth Principal.
I pledge myself to serve the College as usefully and as graciously as I can, in a manner worthy of the confidence that others have in me and deserving of the warmth with which I have been welcomed to the office. I am aware of the fact that being in the office of the Principal is a privilege not granted to all, and I am profoundly grateful for it.
I would like to express my gratitude for the cordial good wishes that I have received from administrators, faculty, staff and students based at both the University of Toronto and the University of St. Michaels College. Most of all I am grateful for the honour of being admitted to a long and uninterrupted intellectual tradition. It is by standing with their feet firmly planted in this tradition, and by living consciously in the ethos that it continues to generate on campus, that the faculty and staff of the College can deliver our academic programs and plan further growth with confidence, despite the uncertainty of the future.
I like to compare the history of the College to a train directed towards the future, moving in time rather than space, and stopping periodically at its stations, so that people who have reached their destination may get off while others, who are about to start their journey, may get on and find a place among those already there. Those who are already on board provide newcomers with a sense of continuity between the past, the present, and the future
I first boarded the College train as a freshman many years ago as an undergraduate student, and I got off when I reached my first destination, which was a Bachelor of Science. I got back on it a couple of years later as a teaching assistant while pursuing a PhD in medieval Italian literature. The Chair of my Department, then on the west campus of the University of Toronto, thought it wise that I should start my teaching career in the College of my undergraduate education. I then boarded it as an associate professor of Italian and Medieval Studies for a few years, and now I do so once again in the role of Principal. While on board, I hope to offer students and faculty alike a reassuring sense of continuity as we move together towards the future.
There are strong lines of continuity between my years as a student and my position as the fifth Principal of St. Michaels College. I occasionally like to recall that my first job at the University of Toronto was here at St Michaels, at a time that now seems like a million years ago. My position was designated as temporary and casual help, and I was hired, together with about 50 other students, to carry boxes of books from Carr Hall, where the old College Library was located, to the new Kelly Library, which had just been built. Little did I know that, if you linger around long enough, they end up making you Principal.
The College has played a very important role in my life and has made many things possible for me. I shall not list them on this occasion, but I will say that the most important one is that it was here, at the College, that I met my wife, when we were both undergraduate students.
As I begin my term of office as the fifth Principal, I am pleased to recall that the first Principal of St. Michaels College, Prof. Lawrence Lynch, chaired my PhD examination; that the second Principal, Prof. William Dunphy, offered me a fellowship in the College and an office in Elmsley Hall in the early years of my academic career; that the third principal, Professor Joseph Boylewho, together with the Chair of our Collegium, Hugh MacKinnon, has just honoured me with his assistance in my robingbrought the Department of Italian Studies, in which I was then teaching, to the campus of St. Michaels College; and that the fourth Principal and my immediate predecessor, Prof Mark McGowan, worked closely with me while he served as Principal of the College and I as Chair of Italian Studies at St Mikes.
I take this opportunity to recognize their great love for the College and to express my gratitude for the legacy of their leadership. I am humbled by their example and proud to have joined their company. I also take this opportunity to recognize my debt to my own teachers, for their example and mentorship in the early part of my career and for their loyalty and support in more recent years.
The initial impact that the College had on my personality and on my imagination when I was a student, and later in the earliest years of my academic career, was real and profound, profound enough to ensure hat I would never stray far from its campus. And it has finally brought me back full circle, in this new role. I recognize the efficacy of its tradition in my personality, in my sense of identity as a scholar, and in the ideals by which I am guided.
For the College, a tradition is not a gesture of conformity to models from the past, relics of an earlier period of history. It is not the ritualistic replay of the past in the present, an exercise in which the past can make little sense other than as a form of nostalgia. A real tradition, as Stravinsky observed in one of his famous lectures at Harvard, a real traditionhe saidis not a relic of the past irretrievably lost; it is a living force that animates and informs the present.
Now St. Michaels animates and informs the present with a rich heritage that includes stars of the first magnitude in the humanities, in the arts, in politics, in law, and in philanthropy. It continuously translates this legacy into academic ideals appropriate to the present, ideals with which to nurture its students to success in the future.
A few days ago, in a ceremony at the St. Michaels College wall of Legacy, I had occasion to say that that modest wall, with photographs of some of the greatest minds that have gone through St. Michaels throughout its history, is the most important wall of our institution, because it is our monument to the tradition of thought by which we are sustained.
Fully conscious of its historical roots and its spiritual temperament, I know that the tradition of thought that informs the mission of St. Michaels College reaches out to educational principles inspired by ideals of conscience, social justice, and ethical practice, in whatever discipline one specializes and in whatever pursuit one finally chooses as the goal of a lifetime.
If the College ideals have a successful impact on us, we will end up carrying them with us wherever we go. We bring them into our research and our teaching as well as our private lives. That man is a social animal does not mean only that all human beings live in society as members of particular communities. It also means that the communities in which they have lived meaningful experiences continue to live in them, wherever they may go, whatever they may do, and however far life may take them.
The St. Michaels community is characterized by principles of shared history and solidarity. It reaches its ideal when its members realize that they can stand comfortably in each others debt, not only as individuals, but as representatives of the different disciplines included in our teaching and research mission. For a College is an institution that seems almost to have been designed with an experience of intellectual consilience as its ultimate goal, an experience in alignment with the tradition by which the community is sustained, an experience that is consistent with the spiritual temperament by which it is nourished.
It is with these principles in mind that I hope to serve the College as Principal.
In conclusion, President Anderson, let me thank you for having organized this wonderful installation ceremony. For a person such as myself, with a background in theatre studies, there is nothing more splendid than a display of colours, complete with a change of costume, in full view of the audience, assisted by the Chairman of the Collegium and a distinguished Principal, no less, and in the presence of the Archbishop. You could have hardly planned something more gratifying, but you thought of adding the cheerful notes of a trumpet, and so you secured my loyalty to the College for ever. Thank you, Sister Anne, for your love for the College, for your dedication to the well-being of its members, and for the warmth with which you have welcomed me into its community.
I also thank you, Dean Gertler, and through you I express my gratitude to President Naylor for the kind words that he sent me, for the trust, and for the cordial good wishes. To you personally, Meric, I am more grateful than I can say for the example of your leadership and for your support of my own efforts throughout the years in which I had the good fortune to work with you.
I finish by turning to you, Your Grace, not the least but the first among us, thanking you for my oath of office, for your continued guidance of the University of St. Michaels College as our Chancellor, for the care that you have for the well being of our students, and, finally, for your generous readiness to help us reach our goals.
And so my tour of duty now formally begins. Thank you all for being here to help me celebrate the moment.