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Queen's University

Speech to First Year Students at Annual Welcoming Ceremony

September 8, 2009

On behalf of Queen's University, welcome!

You are a unique and talented mix of students who have come to us from every corner of the globe:

  • 59% of you are women and 41% are men;
  • 2/3rds of you are enrolled in the Faculty of Arts and Science;
  • 93% of you are Canadian, with 3/4s from Ontario, but only 4.5% are local Kingstonians;
  • Within the 7% of you who are here from other countries, 2% have come up from the United States; and the other 5% are from 57 other nations including Jordan, Australia, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Norway, South Africa, Argentina and Ecuador.

We are thrilled you are all here.

In the coming days and weeks, you will start building lifelong friendships; you will begin classes and you will start to explore ways to fill out your days and evenings - the less tangible part of your education here - the student experience.

Aside from the outstanding education you will receive at Queen's, I can tell you from personal experience that for Queen's graduates, it is overwhelmingly the student experience that stays with us the longest.

Having returned to Queen's this summer, and being only a few days into my term as Principal, I envy you and where you are in your lives; I think back very fondly to my first days as an undergraduate here over 30 years ago when, like many of you, I arrived with a new world of possibilities, friendships, educational experiences and extra-curricular opportunities lying in front of me.

As the university is embedded in our host community of Kingston, you have the chance to engage in activities, on campus and off, in ways that can truly enrich your time here.

There are literally hundreds of groups on campus, and endless opportunities to serve the community in whatever facet of society that interests or compels you.

Kingston is such an important part of Queen's, and Queen's of Kingston.

Thousands of Queen's students commit time, energy and talent across the City every year, and this engagement and volunteerism has always set us apart.

The residents of Kingston can benefit so much from your enthusiasm, your intelligence and your compassion.

I strongly encourage you to get involved.

As many of you know already, it's immensely gratifying to help and support a fellow human being and make their lives better.

We have a proud tradition of our students working and volunteering in and around the city and then moving on with great professional and personal success in serving their communities and country for the betterment of our society - you have this potential too.

I also urge you to be respectful of the community in which you now live -- to personify the University's vision as an inclusive and positive environment that celebrates equality and diversity.

Freedom of speech and thought, and the processes of analysis and criticism are at the heart of this and every good University.

Ideas are born and are challenged; some survive and grow; others die.

Discussion, discourse and debate are central to learning - and these conversations happen not only in class, but in coffee houses, residence dining halls, on lawns, you name it.

In that spirit, I am going to ask you to do two things this year that may take you outside your comfort level.

The first is to experiment with your courses; do stretch yourself and take something that is unfamiliar or challenging-who knows what new doorways this will open for you, or what new way of seeing the world.

The second is on a personal level: by the end of the year, I would like each one of you here to be able to say that you have gotten to know someone who is very different from you, perhaps by religion, ethnicity or background, and who may even hold diametrically opposed views to yours on issues of importance.

You will find this both an enriching experience, and good practice for keeping an open mind, for defending your own beliefs and customs through reasoned argument while being respectful of the beliefs and practices of others.

I also want to remind you that you have responsibilities both to the Queen's Community and the citizens of Kingston.

Some residents who live near campus have, at times, been subjected to excessive noise and destructive behavior by a small minority of students.

Unfortunately, the rowdy and inappropriate behaviour of a few can affect the reputation of the University, locally and beyond, and potentially tarnish the value of your degree.

I urge you to make safe and responsible decisions about what you do and where you go every day and every night out.

I personally expect that you will honour the Student Code of Conduct and respect the rights and values of our Kingston neighbours.

There's a new website that provides important links to information about your safety and community living - I encourage you to visit it at

Finally, I know life is busy and there is a lot of work to be done, people to see and places to be, but remember to take time for yourself and take care of yourself.

There are many supports and services available if you ever need them.

We want you to thrive and succeed here, academically, socially and personally.

It is a great pleasure as Principal to welcome you all to the beginning of your lifelong association with Queen's University and I hope to meet many of you in this first year of your journey.

You will certainly see me walking around campus and dropping in to unexpected places like the residence dining halls.

I am also planning to swim and use the new Queen's Centre, our stunning athletic, recreation and student life complex that's opening soon. It will be a stellar addition to your student experience.

When you see me, please come up and speak with me, or sit down and join me. I certainly look forward to talking with you.

I want to thank you for choosing Queen's. We are happy and privileged you are here.

I wish you all the best for an exciting and rewarding, challenging and stimulating four years on this campus, which will be the start of what I hope will be a lifelong experience as members of the Queen's family.

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000