Visit to the College of the North Atlantic-Qatar, “A Smart and Caring World: The New Frontiers of Thinking”
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Doha, Qatar, Monday, February 28, 2011
It is a pleasure to have been invited to address such a prestigious institution and to speak directly to students, parents, faculty and others who share my vision of education. This is a beautiful campus, stunning in its architecture and fortunate in the potential of its students. I am happy to be here at the College of the North Atlantic-Qatar, among friends.
Like the great French explorer Samuel de Champlain, who travelled up the St. Lawrence River to discover Canada some 400 years ago, so too do we find ourselves on the verge of a different discovery: the new frontiers of thinking.
Increasingly, we are revising the way we think about borders and about our place in the world. We are quickly coming to the realization that the world is flatter and more interconnected than ever before. We strive to create a better life for our families, our communities and our countries. It is this desire that drives us to create a peaceful and thriving society.
Since my installation as governor general of Canada, I have spoken on creating a smart and caring nation, but today, I want to expand on that. Today, I hope, will be the start of a call to action to each of you to create a smart and caring world.
Our world is becoming increasingly globalized, but all of you who are studying here already know this. Through your connections with other institutions across the region and your special link with Canada, you are helping to create the interconnected society that is the future.
I strongly believe in the promise of a connected world, which is reflected in my own education. I come from a small resource community in Northern Ontario, Canada, and attended post-secondary institutions, first in the United States, then England, and finally back in my own country—which I always knew was my ultimate destination.
This experience abroad was important to me because it showed me the wider world; I was not the only international student at Harvard and Cambridge, and I learned that we are able, despite any differences, to live and work together.
As parents, my wife, Sharon, and I imparted the importance of education to our five daughters. Today, we could not be prouder of what they have accomplished. They began participating in international exchanges at age 12 and then studied at home and abroad—in the US, Mexico, Costa Rica, China, Russia, France, Czechoslovakia and Jordan—and we watched in admiration as they reached for their dreams.
They all speak English, French and Spanish, and amongst the five of them, include Mandarin, Russian, German, Portuguese and Arabic in their collective language repertoire.
I tell you all of this not to brag about my daughters, whom I dearly love, but to say they represent the new citizens of the 21st century. While they are proud citizens of Canada, they are truly citizens of the world, and their country is the country of the mind.
The first step, however, is dialogue, and Qatar is ever-expanding the ways in which it connects to the world.
Fifteen years ago, you pioneered in starting Al Jazeera which transmits current news around the world in Arabic and English.
Over half of Qatar’s population has access to the Internet, making it one of the most wired countries in the Middle East. Many of you are also using social media to connect with others; Facebook, for example, has become more and more popular in Qatar, with a percentage of users on par with many Western nations.
What this shows me, and what this institution shows the world, is that Qatar is becoming a leader in collaboration. Through interconnectivity, innovation and education, a nation can become competitive and its citizens can achieve success.
Think of the fact that it took the printing press in Western Europe—the last great communication revolution—almost three centuries to touch a majority of the population. The Internet—the latest communication revolution—took less than a decade to reach over half of the globe. To quote a good friend: “Our living standards tomorrow will be shaped by how well we establish our innovation architecture today.”
Qatar has invested in innovation architecture with great success, not only in the facilities, but also in the equipment and, most importantly, the people.
Here at the college, you have access to the very latest in technologies to create an ultra-modern learning environment.
This country has committed itself to rapid growth in multiple sectors, including education and health care. Qataris have increasingly played a vital role across the Middle East and around the world in such areas as politics and business.
When the College of the North Atlantic in Newfoundland and Labrador entered into a 10-year agreement to develop this campus, little did you realize the effect it would have as we near the end of that decade. To call this college a success is an understatement, as hundreds of Qataris are now in jobs where they are contributing to the future of this nation. Their success started with the quality education at this college, which in turn began with the friendship that exists between Canada and Qatar.
Your country knows that in order to succeed on the world stage, it must continue its commitment to education and innovation. It is with this in mind that, for the past two years, the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development has presented the World Innovation Summit for Education.
Canadians have joined with others from around the world to discuss major issues in education and to share innovative ideas for a new generation of students. The next summit in November will no doubt once again attract the attention of many institutions worldwide that are excited to contribute to this global discussion.
Qatar’s leadership in encouraging the world’s innovation architecture and infrastructure is one reason why this country is having such a big impact on the region.
Some of you may be wondering what education can give you, why it is even necessary to come to school; others may ask how old traditions and the modern world can co-exist.
In just over 10 years, Qatar will make its most high-profile case as a world leader when it hosts the 2022 World Cup.
Your successful bid is reminiscent of Canada’s excitement at winning the opportunity to host the Winter Olympics, which we did last year. There is a palpable anticipation, but there is also the reality of hosting such a large-scale project.
The logistics are staggering, but not insurmountable.
On a wide scale, education, through post-secondary institutions, has a major impact on lives, but more specifically, this college can help Qatar be the stellar host we know it to be.
The designs, the plans, the construction—the next decade will see your country develop the necessary tools for the World Cup. This tournament brings the world together in sportsmanship, with a message of solidarity put forth by a multitude of countries. Like the Olympics, the World Cup is a unifying front, allowing us to put aside our differences and celebrate as one.
And it is the students of today who will be the leaders of tomorrow, both for the World Cup and as you look forward to fulfilling the obligations set forth by the Qatar National Vision 2030. This forward-thinking initiative allows Qataris to envision their country as it can be, while setting concrete goals in human, social, economic and environmental development.
Let me tell you a story. A philosophy professor stood before his class, with some items in front of him. When class began, he picked up a large empty jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They, again, agreed that it was.
The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.
The demonstration, he explained, was like life. The rocks are the important things—family, your partner, your health, your children, and, yes, even your education—anything that was so important to you that if it were lost, you would be devastated. The pebbles are the other things that matter, like a house or car. The sand is everything else, the little things in life.
If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your energy and time on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. There will always be time for the little things. Take care of the rocks first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.
There was one last item on the professor’s desk. One brave student asked, “And what about the can of Coca-Cola?”
The professor smiled and answered, “Never forget to share a cool drink with a friend.”
I firmly believe in the power of a formal education, that it is an important “rock.” It is in institutions such as this that we discover who we are and what we want out of life. What you learn here will give meaning to your lives and will set you up to achieve great things for yourself and for your country.
Education is also a connection to the past. I know that many parents worry that tradition will be lost in a new world where connectivity with other cultures and a sharing of ideas are key. That need not be the case, and in fact, education can encourage students to respect traditions by teaching what has come before. Taking what you learn here, you will enter the working world with knowledge of the past, applying it to the present.
As a naive first-year student at Harvard University in the early 1960s, I felt somewhat intimidated, being a young man living in the small Northern Ontario town of Sault Ste. Marie. Harvard was also once the home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the author of the famous Hiawatha poem, which was based on the legendary Ojibway leader whose people lived on the shores of Lake Superior.
I came to learn that Sault Ste. Marie was not just some Northern Ontario town. It was once at the centre of the largest settlements in North America prior to the arrival of European settlers, its inhabitants drawn by the abundance of whitefish.
When I discovered that link, all of a sudden, my life at Harvard changed. I had a home. I had a place. I was still a little guy in a big place, but I knew all about my roots.
We respect the past and pay homage to it while moving forward. In that same way are traditions upheld and heritages honoured.
The College of the North Atlantic-Qatar, with its connectivity to Canada and the rest of the country, is at the forefront of change in Qatar. I have long believed in the importance of students studying abroad, as I did, of getting the experiences that will give them an understanding of other cultures and other peoples.
With its interconnectivity, this college is giving you the next best thing: a link to the wider world that you would not otherwise get.
The smart and caring world I spoke of starts with quality education and branches out into all aspects of life. Qataris in this room and across the country are making a difference every day. They are encouraging excellence, celebrating accomplishments and shaping the events of tomorrow.
In the words of George Bernard Shaw, a famous British author: “Some people see things as they are and wonder why. We dream of things that ought to be and ask why not.”