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In my final update as President and Head, I would like to look back at the treasured time I have spent serving Pearson College and the United World College community and remember what we accomplished together. It has been an unforgettable experience, an honour and a privilege for which I shall ever be grateful.

As Anne McLellan noted, when I was appointed in 2015, I was not only the first woman to serve as Head of College, but also became Pearson’s first President.  My external role as president required me to spend significant time off-campus “raising funds, friends and profile” to re-establish Pearson as Canada’s School for the World. I could not have done so without the exceptional senior leadership team, faculty, staff and many others who ensured the smooth operation of every aspect of the “Pearson experience” for our students and the entire community.

Recent Activities (Highlights)

November is a particularly stressful time for our second-year students: university applications are looming, internal assessments are held, and final drafts of extended essays are due. It is also a sombre month as the winter solstice nears and daylight hours dwindle. This year, we experimented with a “Flip Schedule” during the first two weeks of November both to increase daylight time for outdoor activities and to promote good mental health. Feedback following the experiment revealed that, while comments about the pilot project were mixed, the short-term change in routine was challenging. In fact, as Dean of Studies Emily Coolidge observed, “We probably learned more about how we adapt to change and how challenging a change in our daily routines can be than the benefits of physical activity in the daylight.”

Dedicated to the topic of Culture and Cultural Differences, the 11 November Special Topics Day organized by Year 45 students offered thoughtful and often provocative discussions regarding cultural practices, taboos, perceptions and misconceptions. It was an outstanding example of the strengths of the diversity of our students and the openness of discussion fostered by the Pearson experience.

The College’s November Board meeting and Annual General Meeting were held in Ottawa on 14-15 November. I invite you to review the 2018-2019 Annual Report that includes both a comprehensive overview of the year’s activities as well as informative messages from Board Chair Anne McLellan and me. The report also presents our annual financial statements and pays tribute to the generosity of our many donors and supporters.

Alumni Storytelling Soiree in Ottawa on 14 November 2019

A popular side event of the AGM was the 14 November Alumni Storytelling Soirée. The audience of more than 50 guests, ranging from Years 1 (1976) through 40 (2015), was so appreciative of the engaging talks by Robert Hornung (YR 7/1982, Canada-AB), Céline Bak (YR 8/1983, Canada-ON), Mélanie Robert (YR 15/1990, Canada-QC) and Erika McDonnell (YR 40/2015, Canada-BC), who recounted how they are making the UWC mission a reality – whether it be in their families, their communities and/or their careers.

The annual Metchosin Holiday Concert on 1 Dec was, as usual, a heartwarming musical celebration of the holiday season with our neighbours and friends in the community. The night before, to accommodate all the students and residents who were unable to fit in the jam-packed Metchosin Community Hall, we added a special seasonal concert in the McConnell Theatre of the Max Bell building. These were preludes to numerous on-campus gatherings before students and faculty depart for the Winter Break on Friday 20 December.  

Looking Back at My Time at Pearson

My mandate as President and Head of College was an ambitious one: to renew and re-found Pearson College UWC for the next 50 years of educational leadership, scholarship and service. As I reflect on the past four-and-a-half years, I am proud and humbled by what we have accomplished together.

Strategic Plan 2017-22
Through 2016 and 2017, some 700 stakeholders participated in the development of the five-year plan that now governs the College’s  decisions and actions. The resulting document established five overarching goals, People, Program, Place, Profile and Prosperity, and from these emerged three priorities:

  1. Develop and deliver an educational and residential experience that is innovative, distinctive and transformative.
  2. Renew and re-found Pearson College as Canada’s School for the World.
  3. Build a solid financial foundation based on a sustainable operating model.

Educational and Residential Experience

“Inspire students to be responsible global citizens by fostering innovative programming, cutting-edge curriculum, leadership in experiential learning, IB excellence and creativity, and Indigenous programming and reconciliation.” Strategic Plan 2017-22

I am proud that Pearson has undertaken a fundamental examination of our curriculum in order to introduce a new generation of global education for a new generation of global citizens. In addition to reformulating the learning experience, we are investing in the living experience through enhanced student care and mental health support as well as more robust adult engagement and presence on campus.

Faculty, students and staff working together through the Innoweave process

Deputy Head and Vice-President Education and Programming Heather Gross initiated and shepherded the first steps in a process to develop and update Pearson’s Educational Vision and Strategy. The Innoweave-supported process is aimed at “strategic clarity” defining the impact we seek to have in the world and how we achieve that impact. The process happily coincided with our decision to hire an Experiential Education coordinator, Marija Dang, who is helping to build the educational model that continues to challenge the whole person – the “head, heart and hands” approach to experiential education.

While the Innoweave process is unique to Pearson, across the UWC we are holding conversations about how a “UWC Diploma” would connect with the International Baccalaureate and complement the IB Diploma Program currently in place throughout the UWC. This substantive and innovative work looks at the UWC Educational Model to ascertain how it could encompass all of our educational offerings (from academic and experiential learning to the living and leading components of residential life) under a “UWC Diploma” that reinforces our mission. These conversations are important to our future as an innovative and progressive educational institution.

Indigenous Visions

At the beginning of my mandate in August 2015, in my first address during the Opening Ceremony of the academic year, I made a commitment to ensure all members of our community understand the truth, history and contemporary realities of Indigenous Peoples.

My call to action for Pearson to participate in Reconciliation asked the entire community – both on and off campus – to consider what we could contribute to reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples in response to the release of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There was an immediate and enthusiastic response from the entire Pearson community. I am proud that this has been an underlying theme throughout the following years, resulting in this year’s engagement of  Marcia Dawson to develop an Indigenous Vision for Pearson College under the guidance of the new Indigenous Advisory Council which brings together Indigenous students, alumni, staff, faculty and Board members as well as Scia’new First Nation Elders.

Chief Russ Chipps, Scia’new First Nations (Beecher Bay) and Désirée McGraw signing the Memorandum of Understanding between Beecher Bay, District of Metchosin and Pearson College UWC

While the relationship with the Scia’new (Beecher Bay) First Nation has always been cordial, the bonds between Pearson and the Nation on whose ancestral and unceded territory we live and learn have been strengthened during these past years. A year ago, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Scia’new First Nation and the District of Metchosin committing us to work together to develop a common vision for the lands near the College campus on Pedder Bay.

Further, Scia’new Chief Russ Chipps and Elders play a key role  in Pearson customs and events, both formal and informal, including providing the stirring introduction to One World by the Nation’s drummers. In August, the campus community participated in a moving opening of the new academic year.  Chief Chipps welcomed us all – with special words for the students – on the Nation’s ancestral lands and spoke eloquently of the close, respectful relationship between our communities.

Renewing and Re-founding Pearson College as Canada’s School for the World.

Re-establishing the College as a national treasure in the Canadian consciousness – an enduring legacy to one of Canada’s greatest prime ministers and internationalists – as a global centre for peace and reconciliation. Strategic Plan 2017-22

To reach this goal, Pearson must offer an educational experience that differentiates it from other schools and educational movements. The College has reinforced its educational mandate through increased investment in curriculum and teaching as well as student financial assistance, health and wellness. Most importantly, the College returned to a full student complement of 200 in 2018. Additionally, we have invested in renewal of campus facilities and infrastructure to offer students a modern, safe living and learning environment.

Outreach is an essential component of raising awareness and understanding of Pearson to win the hearts and minds of influential individuals and organizations. I have devoted much time and effort to this campaign, developing relationships with all levels of government, education and philanthropic institutions, industry influencers, international organizations and NGOs. I have attended conferences and accepted speaking opportunities to support better understanding of our unique educational institution.

The Pearson family Anne, Michael, Landon & Hilary at the 2017 event honouring the 60th anniversary of Lester B. Pearson’s Nobel Peace Prize award

For example, we remember the November/December 2017 celebrations of the 60th anniversary of Mr. Pearson’s Nobel Peace Prize  with packed events in Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa; the March 2018 hosting of the Personal Representatives of G7 Prime Ministers and Presidents; and the hosting in 2019 of the biannual meeting of Heads and Chairs of UWC Colleges and Schools, the UWC International Board and representatives of National Committees. The UWC international meeting at the official residence of B.C. Lieutenant Governor Her Honour Janet Austin was a chance for 200 people from across the region to meet the provincial vice-regal representative and special guest Her Excellency, Canada’s Governor General Julie Payette (an alumna of UWC Atlantic and former Pearson Board member) and to learn more about Pearson and the UWC movement.  In the same month,  thanks to the generosity of former Pearson Board member and alumnus Jean Drouin (YR 15/1990, Canada-ON), the Project Week trip to Ottawa allowed 10  Pearson students to attend the Forum for Young Canadians. All of these events were key to the on-going effort to Make Friends and Influence People

Build a Solid Financial Foundation Based on a Sustainable Operating Model

Eliminate the College operating deficit and achieve a balanced operating budget by 2020. Establish a growth revenue generation program. Nurture and grow the endowment. Significantly improve funding through a range of philanthropy and revenue generation. Develop effective relationships at all government levels and secure new public funding. Make continuous improvements in the stewardship of financial resources. Strategic Plan 2017-22

We have made strides towards meeting the ambitious objectives for Prosperity set out by the Strategic Plan. We continue to ensure the College’s healthy financial future by growing and diversifying revenue streams and reducing the draw on our endowment to a sustainable 4% this fiscal year down from 8% in 2016. This declining draw in not only in line with charitable best practices, it has allowed the income generated from our endowment to grow and in turn support more student scholarships. Almost 84% of our students receive financial assistance – almost 50% full scholarships.  While we are now in our fifth year of means-testing our students (bringing Pearson in line with other United World Colleges), we remain committed to capping operating revenues from tuition to ensure that our student body remains deliberately diverse in both geographic and socio-economic terms.

We are also seeing a greater return on our investment in Advancement – for every dollar spent, we are raising four to five dollars. Since July 2016, we have raised more than $15M of our total $40M campaign goal and we are projected to meet and possibly exceed the campaign’s halfway mark ($20M) this fiscal year.

Working with Advancement staff and a team of dedicated volunteers, including Board Chair Anne McLellan, other past and present Board members, several alumni and my President’s Council chaired by Hilary Pearson, the, I have devoted much of my time to nurturing relationships with both private and public partners emphasizing the role of Pearson as Canada’s School for the World. While we have not yet succeeded in obtaining the long-term funding we seek, we have laid the groundwork, established allies at all levels of government, and I am confident that Pearson will eventually obtain the desired financial support.

We are also continuing to grow and diversify our revenue streams. We invite local and other groups, to rent our facilities for meetings, team-building sessions and other appropriate purposes. At the same time, we are examining possible opportunities to expand our educational and mission-aligned program offerings  to benefit from economies of scale by offering these to more organizations and people.

Beyond The Broad Priorities…

Health and Wellness – Taking Our Responsibilities Seriously

Maintaining good mental health is a challenge for students in secondary and pre-university studies at any school. At Pearson, students, faculty, staff, houseparents and other residents work every day to support healthy living.

Over the past few years, we have shared with the community a a renewed commitment to ensuring ours is a safe and supportive environment for all students, staff, faculty, alumni, volunteers and visitors. Comprehensive support for the mental and physical wellbeing as well as the safety and integrity of our community is critical; and I am proud that we have taken many steps to enhance support for the health, safety and wellness of our entire community.

Sustainable Campus Challenge/Initiative

With the goal of becoming Canada’s greenest campus by Pearson’s 50th anniversary in 2024, and under the steady leadership of Chief Operating Officer Tyrone Pile, we have worked ceaselessly to upgrade and update our aging campus infrastructure. Improvements across the campus include extensive safety, comfort and energy-efficient renovations to four  student residence houses, similar modernization upgrades to academic classrooms and labs and the student common room, much-needed improvements to family and other residence living quarters as well as landscaping initiatives to improve the safety and liveability of our precious outdoor areas.

Climate Change Action

A commitment to sustainability at both local and global levels is baked right into our mission statement. In November 2018, then-federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna visited the campus and gave students the opportunity to pepper her with tough questions. Subsequently, last February the Special Topics Day was devoted to Climate Change as well as a Call to Action in response to the challenge of making Pearson the greenest campus in Canada by 2024.

As a long-time climate change activist, I was thrilled that some 250 student and adult participants produced nearly 1,000 hours’ worth of ideas and actions, a number of which have already been put into practice on campus.

When this year’s 21 September UWC Day theme — Climate of Change — aligned with the worldwide FridaysForFuture in cities around the world on 20 September, our students joined with people of all backgrounds and beliefs from across Vancouver Island at Victoria’s Global Climate Strike event on the provincial legislature grounds. Pearson students spoke to the crowd eloquently, passionately and urgently about the impact of climate change on young people and the planet.

Pre- and post-Climate Strike education sessions were held on campus. Students, together with advisors, faculty members and other adults, worked to better understand the impact of climate change on all cultures and communities and discussed how to most effectively raise their voices in many ways and in many forums beyond a one-day action.

Women’s Empowerment

On 8 March, International Women’s Day, I launched the year-long programmatic theme of Women’s Empowerment. It has been rewarding to see how our community and particularly our students have embraced the challenge. Thirteen students participated in a Women’s Empowerment Project Week and I was proud to lead students who participated in the Capstone Week delegation to the Women Deliver global conference in Vancouver. There, powerful, personal and pointed messages were shared by nearly 20 young women from Pearson College UWC at the Education and Diversity: Forces That Unite session they hosted in the presence of special invited guests, including Sophie Grégoire Trudeau.

Since the beginning of this academic year, the theme has been embraced by a very active women’s empowerment team guided by Marija Dang in her capacity as student initiatives advisor.  Most recently, I was proud to take part in a discussion and workshop here on campus to recognize and celebrate motherhood.

Alumni Engagement

We often say that our students are our best ambassadors, but it is our Alumni who reach a range of audiences beyond the horizons of most students and are often best placed to advise the College on how to prepare current students in their roles as “new Alumni.”

Albert (YR 24/1999, Spain). and Raquel (YR 6/1981, Spain), during her Alumni-in-Residence stay in January 2018

The bonds with our Alumni have grown stronger each year thanks to an active and enthusiastic worldwide alumni community supported by our able Alumni Relations and Engagement team. The  Alumni-in-Residence (AIR)  program was introduced in April 2016 with the arrival of Dani McArthur (Year 6/1981).

We welcome Alumni who facilitate in-person and distance Life After Pearson sessions where they impart wise counsel while sharing their own experiences with our  students.  Many others (from Pearson and other UWCs) come for quick visits, staying at our Alumni  & Community House.

In addition to opportunities to volunteer, there are Alumni events organised in cities throughout North America and the world, and whenever I –or other key Pearson individuals – travel to a city where there are Pearson graduates, we always try to reach out and meet them. Among the most rewarding events of the year are the On-Campus Reunions held every summer. It is a delight to see these Pearson graduates, who come from all over the world, reconnecting with their peers, introducing their families to the College, and sharing their impressive personal and professional journeys with one another

Most recently, with guidance from the Board of Directors, we are exploring a new initiative to involve alumni in the life and direction of the College through an Alumni Working Group. At this stage, we are extending an open invitation to any alumni who are interested in a deeper engagement with the College. Much more information is posted to our Alumni Engagement page – please check it out and feel free to submit an application.

The Students

Désirée McGraw during one of her meetings with each first-year student in 2017

The students are the centre of everything we do – and they have taught me so much!  The one-on-one interviews I have held with them at the beginning of each academic year are revelations. Their achievements, insights, aspirations and determination to succeed are remarkably mature, and yet, they are teenagers who, by definition, are inclined to rebel and need to be reminded occasionally that with rights come responsibilities! As proven changemakers, many are used to confronting the norms of their communities since childhood and may not find it easy to abide by the necessary rules of residential campus life. Many, used to being outliers, suddenly find themselves in a community of outliers. Most will have come from somewhat homogeneous communities; suddenly they find themselves sharing a room with three other young people who come from three vastly different cultures, educational systems, family situations and likely speak three different languages.

The challenge for the adults is to foster their creativity and diversity while imparting the unifying Pearson experience of learning to live, learn, lead and laugh together. The fact that each student preserves their individuality while becoming a member of the Pearson team is a credit to their resilience. They are hard-working, open-minded and engaged in creating practical ideas for positive change in the spirit of the UWC mission for a more peaceful and sustainable world. Truly, they are awesome!

The Pearson Community

The students, the centre of our campus, are surrounded by a dedicated circle of adults who create, sustain and support every aspect of their Pearson College UWC experience.  Faculty, Staff, Residents, Volunteers, Alumni, Host Families, Houseparents, House Buddies, House Pets – all play an important part in creating the unique experience that is Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific. Each of you has been an invaluable part of my amazing time at Pearson, as have colleagues and friends from the broader UWC family, who have generously shared their time and experience with me.

I have been truly blessed and will forever cherish my memories of our time together. I thank each and very one of you for your support, encouragement and counsel.
With this amazing community, I know Pearson College’s future is bright.

Above all, I want to express my gratitude and admiration for Heather Gross and Ty Pile, who have been my treasured colleagues, wise counsellors and good friends throughout our wonderful shared adventure. On another personal note, I want to pay special tribute to Valérie Colas who has not only been may long-standing Executive Assistant, but also Executive Coordinator of the College’s Senior Leadership Team.  Since arriving in summer 2016, she has done an outstanding job in both these fronts and we are grateful to her for her dedication, hard work, humour and savoir faire. She will be missed not only by her colleagues, but students and neighbours on campus where she has served as Japan House Buddy. We wish her and her new husband Ibrahima Cisse every happiness in their new life together in Senegal where Valerie will take up a new position with Social Change Factory.

While the search for a new leader is underway, the College remains in capable hands with a strong leadership team, faculty and staff led by Ty as Interim President and Head of College, and Heather who is Deputy Head of College and Vice-President  Education and Programming. I wish them ongoing success in every endeavor.

It has been an honour to serve the extended Pearson family: students, faculty, staff, alumni, volunteers, donors and supporters, the parents and guardians who have entrusted their children to our care, our Board of Directors and the broader United World Colleges community.

Désirée McGraw
President & Head of College