You know it’s a special occasion when Jim Watson shows up in his mayoral “bling,” formally referred to as his ceremonial chain of office.
Our mayor presented the Key to the City – the city’s highest and most prestigious honour – to his alma mater, Carleton University, during the research and teaching institution’s Founding Day celebration held Sunday at the Fairmont Château Laurier. The framed key recognizes the university’s “75 years of transforming hopes, dreams and efforts into personal growth and lifelong success.”
Over the past seven decades, there have been 140,000 graduates from Carleton.
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The afternoon reception was held exactly 75 years to the day after the Ottawa Association for the Advancement of Learning gathered at the historic hotel, on June 18, 1942 to create higher education for Second World War soldiers, upon their return to Canada. It wanted to prevent massive post-war unemployment, similar to what had happened after the Great War.
“That they succeeded is a tribute to their commitment and their perseverance. Today, it might be described as their entrepreneurial spirit and, dare I say, their ‘startup spirit,’” said Carleton University chancellor Charles Chi, who graduated from Carleton in 1988 with a degree in systems and computer engineering before becoming a successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist. He’s a former partner at pioneering Silicon Valley venture capital fund Greylock Partners and former executive chairman and CEO of imaging startup Lytro.
“In its 75 years, Carleton’s faculty, students and alumni have taken their research and discoveries – many found in the labs and classrooms on campus – and turned them into new companies, new technology and new economic opportunity,” Chi said at the podium. “Ultimately, this leads to a greater quality of life for the individual and for the country.”
Carleton’s outgoing president, Roseann O’Reilly Runte, received the Order of the Crown from Belgium Ambassador Raoul Delcorde. As one of the country’s highest honours (it’s equivalent to the Order of the British Empire), it recognizes Runte’s strong support for establishing international student and faculty partnerships between Belgium and Canada.
Runte, who has led Carleton for the past nine years and served as its first female president and vice-chancellor, is leaving this summer to head the Canada Foundation for Innovation.
Chris Carruthers, chairman of the board of governors at Carleton University and former chief of staff at The Ottawa Hospital, lauded Runte for her “exceptional and stable leadership”.
“Her priorities have always been the students and the educational mission of the university,” Carruthers told the room. “We have all benefitted from her exemplary leadership, and because of her, Carleton is strong than ever and ready to achieve even greater heights.”
The room heard how a Carleton graduate is one of 17 people selected to compete for just two Canadian astronaut positions.
“I sent him a little note and he wrote back to me and said if he hadn’t done his Bachelor in Aerospace Engineering at Carleton University, he wouldn’t be in Germany training for that program where he’s going to lead our country in the next land of discovery,” said Runte.
In attendance were such former Carleton presidents as Samy Mahmoud, Richard Van Loon and Robin Farquhar. Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick, who’s vice-chair of the university’s board of governors, was there. So was lawyer Jacques Shore, a former board chair.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered his congratulations, via video, and made at least one woman in the room swoon. “He was talking to me, right,” joked blushing emcee Patti Harper, head of archives and research collections at Carleton’s library.