There was a buzz of excitement on campus last weekend as the University of Calgary turned 50 years old. While Friday, April 29 marked the official anniversary date, there was much fun and frivolity throughout the weekend as we celebrated the important milestone. Many former students, faculty and staff returned to campus to join the festivities. It was heartening for me to meet and reconnect with so many of these remarkable individuals – people who played critical and pioneering roles to shape our university and drive its success during our first fifty years.
One of the highlights of the weekend for me was participating in a ceremony to name the streets in University District. University District is a vibrant, innovative and integrated community that is taking shape on 184 acres immediately west of the university campus. The land is currently being developed and soon we will see construction of homes, offices, businesses and parkland.
But a street-naming ceremony … a highlight event of a celebratory weekend? Seriously?
Seriously! At the Saturday morning ceremony, the University of Calgary announced that all of the past and current chancellors would be recognized through the naming of the streets in the University District community. There will actually be a Thirsk Street. What an honour!
Serving the University of Calgary has been a privilege for my chancellor colleagues and me. The role has provided us with a unique opportunity to give back to our university and to our home city. All 13 chancellors would say that we have received much more from our involvement with the university than we ever gave. Nevertheless, the decision to name University District streets after chancellor emeriti is noteworthy. It sends a message that the University of Calgary holds its many volunteers in high regard. While chancellors (as well as senators, board and committee members, and alumni) are busy people in our outside lives, we have the time and energy for a university that plays such a vital role in southern Alberta and on the world stage.
The street-naming gesture also recognizes the role that community engagement has played in the astounding success of our university over its first 50 years. A university without a tight, strategic connection to its community is an ivory tower. However, a university that is closely integrated with its community soars to become the top young university in North America and dares to take on grand societal challenges. University District will undoubtedly play an integral role in our university’s continued success and connection with its community.
Our role as chancellors has been to be ambassadors for the University and advocates for post-secondary education. We’re committed to sharing with Calgarians how research and teaching at the University of Calgary contributes to the vibrancy of our city and addresses public matters. In fact, our mayor has often said, “Great cities need great universities.” Indeed!
I wonder what a mature University District will look like when our university celebrates its 100th birthday. 15,000 residents will be living in a mature community with homes, office buildings, shops and parkland with large, leafy trees. I’m a bit of a fanciful dreamer so I imagine a young family strolling through the community in 2066 on a warm summer evening. As the family strolls along the streets and avenues, a young child looks up at the street signs and asks her parents, “Who are McLaurin, Cuthbertson and McCaig?” The parent replies that they were all people who cared about their university and city.
Thank you to the University of Calgary for honouring and celebrating the contributions of our former chancellors. I am grateful to be part of this legacy.