Congratulate the class of 2021—it’s exceeded expectations

June 15, 2021
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A group of 4 graduates with their backs turned to the camera.
Happy Convocation 2021!

By Paul Davidson

The first six notes of Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance can prompt a lot of emotions: pride in parents who watch the gangly teens they saw off to university now cross the stage as adults; joy in graduates who’ve completed a challenge to achieve; wonder among educators who remain ever curious about how their former students will change the world; and sadness among them all that this part of the journey is over.

With convocations postponed or online in this pandemic year, we’re missing the in-person swish of black gowns on strong shoulders, but we ought not forget to mark the day for this exceptional cohort of university graduates.

In 2020, 1.4 million students enrolled in Canadian universities.

As learning moved online, the easy choice for students might have been to press pause. Who would have blamed them? This group of graduating students instead chose progress. They moved forward with the optimism of expecting better days would come, and the responsibility of ensuring they would be ready.

They powered through chemistry at the kitchen counter. They analyzed Chaucer from the bedroom. They learned to build bridges while helping little sisters build Lego houses. And they delivered groceries to help pay the rent.

It took grit, resilience and tenacity among this year’s graduates get the job done and it took a community to support them.

In 2020, 1.4 million students enrolled in Canadian universities, a growth of two per cent from 2019, in keeping with the last five years. Growth continued largely because of part-time enrolment – many people whose work lives had been disrupted took the opportunity to finish degrees or to try out something new. Good for them. Good for us. This year’s graduates will provide the talent Canada needs now to reset and rebuild our economy.

We aren’t alone in looking to spur activity post-COVID-19. Aging societies and foreign investors around the world will turn to countries with highly skilled workforces. As Sophie D’Amours, the Rector of Université Laval and chair of Universities Canada puts it, “The race for talent will be the gold rush of the 2020s.”

It took grit, resilience and tenacity among this year’s graduates get the job done and it took a community to support them.

Across the country, universities pivoted to add investments in training faculty to effectively deliver courses online and ensure strict safety protocols on campus for studies that could not be done from a screen.

In addition to much needed government support directed to students and campus safety, universities committed an additional $700 million for students, with further support coming from alumni and the wider community. These contributions helped boost mental health services for students and made available technological resources for those who had counted on access to campus computers and internet connections.

These extraordinary investments were made when first-year and international enrolment declined and the ancillary revenues from things like residences, meal plans and campus services, disappeared. The loss in revenue to the sector is estimated at $1.5 billion.

We can’t pretend it was seamless or that it is the same as before, but that so many have fulfilled the requirements of their degrees and will graduate this year shows the resolve of scholars and educators to carry on.

About five years ago, universities made public commitments to Canadians with a prescient introduction. “We live in a world where economic, social and personal fulfillment depends less on what we know and more upon what we are able to learn, how we think and the degree to which we are able to respond to change around us. As centres of learning and discovery, universities play a crucial role in this process. Universities transform the lives of people, who in turn transform our communities, our country and the world.”

Call a graduate to say congratulations. Better still, welcome them to your network, share your connections and listen to their ideas.

This year’s graduates have exemplified those words. They responded to the change around us and they will transform our worlds. For their part in educating and training those graduates, universities have reaffirmed their role as the foundation of our society as we rebuild and renew, post-pandemic.

We lost a lot of traditions this year, from celebrating births to mourning deaths. Spare a thought now for the ceremony of convocation. You might not remember who spoke at your own graduation or what music played beyond Elgar. Still, you may glance at the photos and be reminded of who was with you. It was a rite of passage with a community around you that said we see you, we celebrate you, we support you, we are all better because of you. It is time for us to echo those words to the graduating Class of 2021.

Call a graduate to say congratulations. Better still, welcome them to your network, share your connections and listen to their ideas. Celebrate the class of 2021, not just for the accomplishments they’ve already achieved, but the positive changes they are about to make for Canada.


Paul Davidson is president and CEO of Universities Canada.

About Universities Canada
Universities Canada is the voice of Canada’s universities at home and abroad, advancing higher education, research and innovation for the benefit of all Canadians.

Media contact:

Lisa Wallace
Assistant Director, Communications
Universities Canada
[email protected]

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