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First, congratulations are in order.
You’ve worked so hard, for so many years, to get to graduation day and you should all be very proud of yourselves.
But let’s be real.
This day is nothing like you imagined it to be. And the world is a much different place than anyone could have predicted even a year ago.
You should be celebrating with your friends, taking pictures in your gowns, attending the ceremony on campus.
Walking across the stage to get your diploma, waiting for the commencement speaker to finish their speech, and thinking about the parties that you’ll be attending later that night.
But this year is different.
You are different.
No student gets to choose the world into which they graduate, but if you could – and let’s be honest here – you probably wouldn’t have chosen the world of 2020.
The Australian bushfires linked to climate change. The horrific plane crash in Iran. The worst mass shooting in our country’s history. Horrifying scenes of police violence against Black people and Indigenous peoples.
And of course, the reason we’re all gathered here today virtually and not in person—COVID-19, which has triggered the greatest health and economic crisis in generations.
Recent events have brought a lot of hardship and uncertainty to your lives. And you’ve had to make unprecedented sacrifices.
You’ve had to totally rethink the coming months, the normal stresses of graduating, and next steps have just reached a whole new level.
2020 has also exposed the limitations and flaws of our world—the world that you are set to inherit.
That can be unsettling, and even alarming.
But it’s also a wake-up call.
A wake-up call on how much you are needed.
Because here’s the thing.
Your generation has acutely sensed what was wrong with the world, and what needed to be fixed.
You marched for climate change.
You had the courage to say “Me Too.”
You pushed us along the road to reconciliation.
You stood up because Black Lives Matter.
You demanded the freedom to love who you love. To be who you are.
Make no mistake. Getting a degree is a momentous achievement.
But you never needed a piece of paper to call out injustice.
You didn’t wait for this day to demand change. To create change.
Very few graduating classes in living memory will have faced a challenge of this magnitude, but the Class of 1939 comes to mind.
The Greatest Generation came out of the Depression to fight a world war that they didn’t start. And in the face of unprecedented destruction, they chose to rebuild the world, by rolling up their sleeves and pulling together.
They built the institutions that carried us through the second half of the 20th century.
They set the world on a path of more solidarity, more compassion, more understanding.
They sacrificed a lot, they dreamed big, they worked hard, and they left us a world far better than they found it.
The challenge facing the Class of 2020 is not dissimilar.
The choices you will make – both big and small – in the next few years will decide the future of our country and of our world.
And I cannot think of a generation better prepared to set us on the right path forward.
COVID-19 has taken many things away from you, least of which is a proper graduation. The last few months have been incredibly frustrating.
But this pandemic is also teaching us important lessons.
For one, it’s taught us just how much we need one another.
To defeat this virus, everyone has to play their part—and young people have stepped up.
You’ve made real sacrifices to protect your elders.
You finished your degree online.
You haven’t hugged a friend, let alone had a date, in months.
And you’ve chosen to help out your parents, your neighbours, your community during this tough time.
Whether you’re volunteering with a local charity or helping a business adapt to the new normal, you are stepping up.
You get it.
What matters most is looking out for the most vulnerable, understanding the impact of our choices on others, and being there for each other.
This is what these unprecedented times are teaching you. And reminding us all.
That friends matter. That the people around us matter.
It’s time that we reclaim the idea of community, of being a good neighbour, of being a good friend both online and in real life.
That is something you are uniquely prepared to achieve.
You grew up seeing and engaging with people online who may not speak the same language as you or carry the same passport as you do, but who share your values, your outrage, your passion.
You came of age during events like Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, the Quebec student protests, Idle No More, and the rise of populism and nativism around the Western world.
More recently, you’ve echoed the calls for democracy in Hong Kong. You’ve amplified the calls for more justice, more accountability, and more equality sparked in Minneapolis.
You understand not just the value, but the power, of community better than most.
And that’s why I trust that you will be the 21st century’s greatest generation.
You know what is wrong with the world and how to fix it.
Your job is not only to challenge people like me, but to bring us along.
The road ahead will not be an easy one.
There will be setbacks, disappointments, and heartbreak along the way.
But you have everything you need to achieve what you set your mind to.
You’re incredibly smart, skilled, creative, and ambitious.
You’re also passionate, kind, and empathetic.
And you’re Canadian.
You are connected to, and welcomed in, almost every corner of the world.
You appreciate the opportunities, privileges, and responsibilities that come with calling this country home.
But you also know that Canada is far from perfect. That we are still very much a work in progress.
And your generation has enthusiastically embraced the hard truth that we have to do better.
That doesn’t take away the deep pride that comes with being Canadian.
In fact, our determination to improve, our willingness to learn, and our optimism about the future is at the heart of who we are as a country.
We all know that Canada didn’t happen by accident and won’t continue without effort.
And if there is such a thing as Canadian exceptionalism, it’s not the belief that Canada is the best country in the world.
It’s knowing that we could be.
That our work is never finished.
That our golden age is always ahead of us.
I know the future can seem especially daunting.
But believe me when I say you have everything you need not only to achieve, succeed, and build, but to be happy.
No one gets to choose the world into which they graduate.
But you do get to choose the world that will be your legacy.
You, the Class of 2020, are different.
You were always different.
Recent events have just opened our eyes to what was right in front of us all along.
That you care.
You care about each other.
You care about people you’ve never met and never will.
You care about what happens next.
I know you got this.
And so do you.