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Dear Colleagues and Friends,

I have asked you to join me this afternoon because you are indeed dear students, friends as well as colleagues and collaborators in our ongoing commitment to a glorious future for our beloved Pearson College UWC.

As you know, at the beginning of every academic year, I sit down with each first-year student to learn about you – dear students who continue to amaze me with your unique stories and backgrounds, your individual motivation for coming to a United World College, and your aspirations both for their time at Pearson and beyond. For most students, Pearson represents many firsts – to name a few: first time leaving home, first flight, first time in Canada, first person in the family to go to post-secondary, first time sharing a room with three other people (let alone from three other countries if not continents), first time seeing the ocean/an orca/a bear (thankfully – no cougars yet)!

I usually ask the questions. But yesterday, at the tale end of one such discussion, a student asked me a question: when did I first come to the college?

My mind went back to spring 1987 when I was completing a year-long national youth speaking tour as part of SAGE (Solidarité Anti-Guerre Etudiante) promoting international peace and nuclear disarmament.  At age 16, I was one of four Montreal teens who had taken a year off school to tour the Canada – from Newfoundland to BC – to organize and speak in one quarter of all Canadian high schools about the threat of nuclear war and what young people could do about it. We had success – many high schools formed SAGE chapters, we raised national attention (NFB did a documentary, we headlined the national news and the front page of Globe, we debated military generals and DND started its own youth awareness campaign promoting nuclear deterrence). But we also came across plenty of apathy. It wasn’t until we came to Pearson College at the very end of our nine-month cross-country tour that we felt a profound sense of solidarity with our peers: the Pearson students were informed, intelligent, engaged, empowered – deeply committed to working for change and creating a better, more just and peaceful world. After hundreds of presentations to student bodies across Canada, this is the one that stuck with me most.

Based on my SAGE experience, I developed a bias for action and a tremendous sense of possibility – or empowerment. I think there is something vitally important about empowering the very demographic that comprise the Pearson student body.   If at age 16, 17, 18, 19 you develop a strong sense of possibility and responsibility to make the world a better place, you will carry that with you into wherever you go and whatever context, community, country or career you choose. This is fundamentally what drew me to Pearson College. The purpose of our cross-Canada tour was to educate and engage our peers in the wake of studies and surveys finding that shocking numbers of Canadian youth were not planning on getting married or having kids because of their fears of nuclear war.   Today, some young people are making pledges for the planet – to not have children unless and until we get a handle on climate change.

So what first brought me to Pearson when I was a teenager is also what brought me back more than a quarter century later: my profound belief in the power of young people to change the world – not just when you are “established adults” in some distant future, but here and now. Knowing young adults are neurologically hard-wired to innovate, we should draw on your innate ingenuity to devise new solutions to old problems. We should honour your ability to speak truth to power especially when it is based on enlightened rather than pure self-interest.

While I believe in the power of youth, I don’t support in paying lip service or passing the buck.  My generation – and those before mine – has exacerbated if not created many of the problems, injustices and conflicts the planet is facing. I believe we have a moral obligation to work in partnership with youth; and to educate, empower and equip young people with the knowledge, skills, values, attitudes and networks to both understand and act up on the twin challenges of peace and sustainability – and I would add social justice.

This, I feel strongly, is the essential mandate of Pearson College and the fundamental reason I agreed in 2015 to head Pearson. A big deal seems to have been made about my being the first woman to serve as Head of College, but another important piece is that I was also appointed as the College’s first President. As such, my mandate has been an especially ambitious one: nothing short of renewing and refounding the College for the next 50 years of educational leadership, scholarship and service.

Since that time, four momentous years have passed; my five-year mandate comes to a close in July 2020. Although this has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life, I have informed my boss, the Chair of the Pearson Board of Directors, that my family and I will be returning home to Montreal next summer. I am grateful to the Board Chair Anne McLellan and other Directors for their strong support and understanding.

I wanted to share with everyone in my beloved Pearson College community this important decision that, together with my family, I have made about my future.

The reason I am sharing this news with you now is that the Board needs time to carry out an orderly transition to the new leadership that ensures that what we have achieved together over five years will not only endure, but be enhanced by leadership renewal.

Anne McLellan, together with her fellow Board members, will shepherd the process of selecting my successor.

In the meantime, I assure you of my commitment to carrying out my mandate and I will continue to work closely with the Board of Directors and with our team – implementing our strategic plan, and focusing on our five priority areas of Program, People, Place, Profile and Prosperity.

I will continue to vigorously support and promote all our ongoing and upcoming major initiatives, including:

  1. Renewing our educational programming and curriculum in order to create “a new generation of global education for a new generation of global citizens.” As a pioneer in international education, the first IB school in Canada and an independent school based in British Columbia – and all of the freedom and flexibility that represents – who is better positioned than us to reimagine and implement a brilliant and bold educational experience that delivers on two core questions: What does the world need of Pearson and what do our students need of Pearson so they are empowered and equipped to both understand and shape this world?

We are a group f of highly motivated and diverse community coming from 100 countries:  If not us – who?  2030 is the deadline for meeting Global Goals such as ending poverty and avoiding if can runaway climate change. If not now – when?

Not only do we have a unique opportunity to address these challenges given our UWC mission to create a better world; I believe we have a unique response-ability because we have the ability to respond.

  1. Ramping up our efforts to grow and diversify our revenue streams, notably through Pearson’s unprecedented fundraising campaign to secure the College’s long-term, sustainable financial future. Since July 2016, we have raised over $15M of our $40M campaign goal; and we are projected to exceed the campaign’s halfway mark ($20M) this fiscal year. We are also seeing a greater return on our investment in Advancement – for every dollar spent, we are raising four to five (better than the industry standard).
  2. Developing and delivering on an authentic Indigenous Vision for the College together with an effective, constructive and inclusive community-based approach to Reconciliation with Canada’s First Peoples. At our opening assembly – as I did in my first assembly in 2015 on the heels of the TRC – I re-issued a Call to Action regarding Reconciliation as part of our commitment to ensuring that all members of our community understand the truth, history and contemporary realities of Indigenous people as well as appreciate the wealth of experience and knowledge they contribute to many aspects of our present and future.

As with our students, ‘the Pearson Experience’ has truly been a transformative experience for me and one that has stretched me in every way possible. Along with Chris and our two boys, Jack and Michael, I will always appreciate these special years spent here on Pedder Bay. And we are grateful to all of you who have been part of the adventure!

My passion for Pearson College and the mission of the UWC remains deep and abiding. I am proud to say that, like you, I will be a Pearsonite and UWCer for life! I love that when I “graduate” from Pearson at the end of this year, I will go from being an honorary Year 15 to a Year 45 – gaining 30 years in the process!

I owe each and every one of you my deep gratitude for your own personal commitments to this unique place and the universal UWC values of peace and understanding. It has been – and continues to be – a privilege to head this unique school, and to live and work alongside all of you.  There is still much important work ahead as we renew our curriculum and our campus – and I’m counting on your full support and collaboration to make it a success. In fact, I’m looking forward to making this our best year yet!

I started this thread by referencing my meetings with first-year students. As with second years, these conversations are enlightening and inspiring – a powerful reminder of why our time at Pearson – in this place and with these people – matters. I always like to say that we are in the business of transforming the lives that transform the world – I feel the phrase rings as true as ever 45 years after Pearson welcomed its very first cohort of students in 1974. You – our students – stand the test of time. The quality, diversity and capacity of our students is extraordinary. I continue to believe passionately in you as human beings, but also as partners as we work to achieve our UWC collective mission to make this world more peaceful, more sustainable and more just.

Thank you.

Warm regards

Désirée McGraw
President and Head of College
Pearson College UWC