Brian Porter Speech,  June 13, 2018

Address to the Class of 2018: Ryerson Commencement Speech by Brian J. Porter

Brian Porter Speech at Ryerson University


An address by Brian J. Porter, President and Chief Executive Officer, at the 2018 commencement ceremony at Ryerson University on June 13, 2018.

Thank you, Interim Dean Levin, for that kind introduction.

Good afternoon Chancellor Bloomberg, President Lachemi, Provost Benarroch, Deans, esteemed colleagues and representatives who join us on stage, graduands and honoured guests.

And, of course, special greetings to those of you who have supported these students throughout their time at Ryerson, and the Ted Rogers School of Management more specifically.

I want to begin by extending my thanks to the administrators and trustees for inviting me to speak today … and for this honourary doctorate.

I am truly grateful.

It’s a real pleasure to be here, and to have the opportunity to address the class of 2018.  This ceremony is the culmination of years of hard work and you should all feel an enormous sense of pride.

I know that I am standing in the way of well-earned celebrations with family and friends, so I don’t intend to be up here for too long. But I do want to take a few minutes to speak about the journey that starts when you leave Ryerson.

As I prepared my remarks and thought through some of the messages I hoped to leave with you, a few themes emerged.

The first is gratitude.

Some of you were born here in Canada. Others of you, or your families, chose to come here. Regardless of how it happened, you now find yourselves in a very privileged position.

You are graduating with a degree from a world-class institution in one of the most peaceful and prosperous countries in the world.

For many years, education and opportunity belonged only to a lucky few born in the right place at the right time. While this – unfortunately – is still the case in many parts of the world, it’s not the case in Canada.

Here, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. With hard work and determination, you can build a better life for yourself and your families.

A good example is Peter Munk, who, sadly, passed away earlier this year.

As you may know, Peter was an entrepreneur and founder of Barrick Gold… the largest gold producer in the world and a tremendous Canadian success story. Peter and his family arrived in Canada as Hungarian refugees after fleeing the tyranny of the Second World War. They barely spoke English, and they didn’t have any money or connections.

Throughout his life, Peter remained deeply grateful to the country that took in him and his family. He demonstrated his gratitude by giving away a significant portion of the wealth he earned. In fact, in the months before he passed away, Peter and his wife, Melanie, gave a gift of $100 million dollars to the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at Toronto General Hospital. It was the single largest donation ever made to a Canadian hospital.

When he announced the gift last September, Peter said, and I quote: “The ability to give is a privilege. My dream was always about trying to repay Canada and to realize that dream. This is the best country in the world from every point of view.”

As you go out into the world and start careers, I hope that, like Peter, gratitude will always be a motivating force. Give back when and how you can, and encourage those around you to do the same.

As you may know, Scotiabank is Canada’s International Bank. We operate in nearly 50 countries, and more than 50,000 of our 90,000 employees reside outside of Canada. My travels across the Bank’s footprint have given me opportunities to see Canada from the outside-in, and I can tell you that wherever I go this country is very highly regarded. Canada has earned a reputation for decency and fairness … for standing up for what is right and for doing our share.

We should all be very proud of that reputation.

This brings me to my next point: I hope you will take what you have learned here, at Ryerson, and use it to build an even stronger society.

We all benefit enormously from Canadian values… namely: freedom, democracy, the rule of law, diversity and inclusion.  As a result, by and large, your success in life depends on qualities such as ambition, resilience and curiosity rather than, for example, your last name.

This is not to say that all Canadians will have the same level of success. There are too many Canadians who face real barriers to opportunity.

Still, by and large, if you work hard and play by the rules, you can lead a fulfilling life in a career of your choosing.

The freedoms we enjoy in Canada did not happen by accident. They have been shaped by the institution-building that began well before Canada’s Confederation.

History shows us that institutions – be it government, an independent judiciary, a free press, transparent markets and a strong social security net – are necessary to preserve and promote individual freedoms.

Protecting the integrity of our institutions is a responsibility entrusted to each and every one of us. However, societal trust in these vital institutions has been dropping steadily… and, in some cases, has never been lower. More often than not, the erosion of confidence has been caused by complacency and bad leadership. Public frustration is understandable.

The Global Financial Crisis is a good example. The increased distrust that emerged from that period has had a profound impact that we continue to see to this day.

The growing skepticism about the impartiality and integrity of the media is another example. This is something that members of the media must address.

Public outcry can, and has, led to healthy institutional renewal. A very good example is the anti-corruption campaign that started in Brazil and is still sweeping across Latin America.

The reality is, we will always need strong, ethical institutions, with leadership to match.

I hope you will become those leaders.

To do that, you must be honest in your dealings. You must be constructive. And you must conduct yourselves in a way that restores trust in the institutions that are so critically important to our future.  

Before I move on, I want to touch on one of the most serious consequences of diminishing trust in our institutions, and that is an erosion of tolerance.

In recent years, we have witnessed an inclination on the part of some groups to associate only with those who think, behave, or look the same. Differences – be it in worldview or background – are seen as dangerous, rather than an opportunity to debate and learn.

This brand of ‘tribalism’ can be infectious, and it is a grave threat to inclusive societies like ours.

As you leave Ryerson, use what you have learned here – both hard and soft skills – to be a positive contributor to society. Do not fear dissenting opinions. Seek them out – even if they make you uncomfortable – and be respectful of them.

There is enormous value in knowing people who are different from you, listening to them and working together to build a stronger, more united country and a better world.

In closing, as all of you embark on your careers, make a conscious decision to measure success in terms of the meaning you derive from work rather than more superficial markers like fame or fortune.

When I left university, it was assumed that graduates would find a job at a good company and stay there for an entire career. As a lifelong Scotiabanker, I certainly fit that mold, and I have greatly enjoyed my career at the Bank.

Today, that assumption no longer holds.

Over the course of your lives, some of you may have one job… but most of you will have several. What matters is that you find a job, or jobs, that are meaningful.

I want to close by telling you something that I told my own children when they graduated from university.

As you navigate the job market – and through life, more broadly – you’re going to have success, and you are going to experience failure. Do not be afraid to take measured risks, practice resilience in the face of uncertainty and always be curious.

Over decades of hiring young, aspiring professionals, I can tell you that these are the qualities that make candidates stand out.

Let me once again congratulate you, the Class of 2018, on your tremendous achievement.

You should all be very proud.

Thank you.