Chancellor Wilson, Dean Cameron, Principal Boyagoda, Mr. Foran, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Graduands:
I bring you greetings on behalf of our Chancellor, Cardinal Collins, and on behalf of the University of St. Michael’s College.
One of the things that I have enjoyed in my time here is the opportunity to celebrate the many connections that link St. Mike’s with the University of Toronto. Of course, the biggest and most important link is right in front of me, because you, as students, are citizens of both institutions.
But that’s only one of many ties that bind.
You can find another in the building next door to us, Simcoe Hall, which is where the President and senior administration of the University of Toronto have their offices. The foyer of the building houses plaques and portraits that speak to the remarkable history of this institution. Dominating one wall is a list of the names of people who’ve contributed to the development of the U of T through the decades.
The very first name on the list, dated 1850, is that of John Elmsley, son of a Chief Justice of Upper Canada, and himself a veteran of the Royal Navy and a leading figure in the Toronto of his day. He’s someone who had an enquiring mind, a well developed conscience and a remarkable sense of integrity.
Following his marriage, Elmsley became a Catholic, which was not a particularly good career move in these parts in the 19th century. But he devoted himself to helping that struggling community, and was an early champion of Catholic education.
His gift was his farm, Clover Hill, on what was then the northern edge of Toronto. It is now the heart of the St. Mike’s campus. St. Basil’s, the Church that he helped build, where he attended Mass daily, and where we gathered for Mass this morning, is the oldest building in continuing use on the University of Toronto campus.
Elmsley decided that to be who he was called to be, he needed to question and, at times, to challenge the culture and received wisdom of his day. But in daring to do that, he never stopped being a loyal, energetic, sometimes controversial and always fully-engaged member of his society. In many ways, he embodies qualities that have come to define the University of St. Michael’s College and its graduates.
In congratulating you today, and sending you off to do all the great things that you are going to do, I ask you to spare a thought for John Elmsley, someone who dared to be different, who followed his conscience, and who never stopped giving his gift of service to this university, this city and this country.