UBC President's Speeches and Writings

Create UBC Okanagan 2012

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Create UBC Okanagan Professor Stephen J. Toope President and Vice-Chancellor The University of British Columbia  O Canada. It’s a beautiful anthem, isn’t it? Especially as sung by Kyla [de Jong, 2nd-year Arts student at UBCO]. We all hum [sing?] along with her, we all sing along with Mark Donnelly during Canucks games. Most of us know all the words … and you international students may soon learn them.  Do you remember, by any chance, when you first learned the words to “O Canada?”  Maybe you were actually living somewhere else in the world, and heard them on television, maybe even during the Olympics. Maybe you were in the process of becoming a Canadian citizen. Or maybe you were six years old when you first learned those words, sitting cross-legged on the floor of your elementary school gymnasium with what seemed like thousands of other kids, half excited, half scared, everything new, nothing familiar—your very first student assembly.  Words. They’re funny things. Some words, the more you use them, the less they mean. Like “awesome,” or “synergy,” or “like, whatever.” Other words, like the lyrics to “O Canada,” take on new and deeper layers of meaning the longer you live with them.  Create UBC Okanagan 6 September 2011 Page 2 of 5  Two such words, words that I think may be among the most powerful in the English language, are IMAGINE and CREATE. Why? Simple answer, really: Because that’s what we’re here to do. And I don’t just mean today; I mean for the whole of your university career. Some might even say it’s what we’re here to do with our lives.  Imagination and creation may be the only two skills we’re born with, that we don’t need to be taught or trained how to use. Your parents unpack the new 22-inch TV, you spot the empty carton and see … a race car.  They can’t afford the Barbie Dream House® so you make one out of shoeboxes and toilet paper rolls.  The park next to your school is a magic forest. Your back porch is a Broadway stage. You write stories, rehearse shows, play in a band, draft plans, build forts, train every morning at dawn, look at the world through a microscope, the universe through a telescope, build a car from the engine up, shoot movies, learn codes and languages, invent iPhone apps … all to get … here. To IMAGINE. To CREATE.  We call this first day at UBC “IMAGINE” in Vancouver, and “CREATE” in the Okanagan. The names signify that here, at this extra-ordinary time in your life, you’re about to put your skills into practice at a whole new level. The two events have different names because you can’t have one without the other. Create UBC Okanagan 6 September 2011 Page 3 of 5   Picture it: Imagination without creation stays forever in the realm of fantasy. It leads to frustration. And creation without imagination lacks vision and forethought and power. It leads to mediocrity. But together, they are the foundation of every triumph, great or small, that humankind has ever achieved.  So how do you get from IMAGINATION to CREATION? Well, for me, it’s a short flight on a very small airplane. For you, the answer is … play.  That’s right: play. Surprised? You thought I was going to say “hard work,” didn’t you? Well, that starts next week. Psychologist Carl Jung said, “The creative mind plays with the object it loves.” Today is a reminder to follow your passions during these next few years—in the classes you choose, the clubs you join, the questions you ask, the people you meet, and the new ideas and perspectives you make your own. To the degree that the hard work of the next few years becomes play, you will find yourself able to take what you imagine and make it real in the physical world. It sounds like magic, doesn’t it?  You might be wondering at this point what a university president is doing talking about play and imagination and creation and magic. Maybe you’re asking yourself, Is this a West Coast thing? Should I have gone to U of T after all? But before the future engineers and physicists and commerce Create UBC Okanagan 6 September 2011 Page 4 of 5  students get too worried, let me share just a few more powerful words from some other powerful voices:  Physicist Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”  Business leader Peter Drucker said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”  World-renowned educator Sir Ken Robinson said, “Creativity is as important as literacy.”  And artist Pablo Picasso said, “Everything you can imagine is real.”  What university is for, this university in particular, is to give your mind every opportunity to play with the objects it loves. Ideas, theories, questions, problems, philosophies, blueprints, equations, formulae, stories, symptoms, statistics, and songs. We call UBC “a place of mind” and a world of worlds is about to open up for your mind to play with. So dream big! Today is meant to give you a taste of what you might yet create if only you let your imagination loose. Look around you! This is your playground, and these are your co-creators. These people will inform your ideas, challenge your ideals, and change your mind. You will do the same for them.  Create UBC Okanagan 6 September 2011 Page 5 of 5  When I was your age, a young man wrote a song about coming together to imagine a better world. All these decades later  it is still the anthem, the “O Canada” for all those of us who are committed to creating that world. You probably know the words:  Imagine all the people Living life in peace ... Imagine no possessions I wonder if you can No need for greed or hunger A brotherhood of man Imagine all the people Sharing all the world  In whatever your chosen area of study, in whatever your chosen field of work … imagine that. Choose that. Create that.  I wish you every success with your studies, and look forward to the day we’re all together again, upon your graduation. Welcome to the University of British Columbia.


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