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Karim Bardeesy’s 2023 Convocation Address at TMU

Our Executive Director, Karim Bardeesy addresses the Faculty of Engineering Class of 2023 at Toronto Metropolitan University on June 22, 2023.

TMU Engineering Convocation Address

Karim Bardeesy
June 22, 2023

Chancellor Fukakusa

President and Vice-Chancellor (and Professor of Civil Engineering) Lachemi

Provost Iannacito-Provenzano

Dean Duever and other Deans

Esteemed colleagues and representatives who join us on stage.

Families, friends, honored guests.

And most importantly …

Graduands – because the graduate diploma is not yet in your hands. 

It will be soon.

That was a very generous introduction, but as the son of an Egyptian immigrant who dropped out of math in my 3rd year of undergrad, you have already succeeded beyond my family’s wildest dreams for me — or at least their initial dreams, anyway.

You know, in my own education, for a long time I felt like it was defined, by some numbers, three numbers:

Three point one

That was my GPA, with four zeros along the way – four Fs.


That was the number of times I dropped out

and ten

That’s how many years it took me to finally cross the stage and get my Bachelor of Arts degree.

But twenty years later, here I am.

Now, in your time here, have there been numbers that have been hovering over your head, or in your head?

Numbers that held you back? That you’re worried might define you?

Numbers that made you feel like less than someone else?

Think about those numbers now.

Guess what?

Today, none of that matters

Because here you are.

This morning, everyone is an equal.

Everyone is a winner.

Everyone is crossing this stage, this dais, as a graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University!

If you’re all bits, as in bits and bytes, well everyone’s bits would be switched to one.

A little electrical engineering joke there.

And I’m happy to report that we

Here in these stands 

Are putting our trust in you

Graduates, striding across this stage

To Imagine and Build the Canada that we want, the life that you deserve.

And I firmly believe that is possible.

And I think that’s why I – the math drop-out with other battle scars that the Dean failed to mention in his generous introduction – that’s why I was asked to address you today.

Each of us has a special power

Maybe you haven’t discovered it yet.

I think the reason I was asked is because my special power is to maybe help groups of young people see that an improbable future is possible.

If you don’t believe that, I want to show you it’s been done before, not by individuals but by groups very much like this group today.

Look up and around for a moment. Look up to the rafters, look at the sides here, look at this building. What was it called again?

Maple Leaf Gardens.

Maple Leaf Gardens, you saw the photos as you walked in.

This building was imagined and built during the Great Depression.

Built in 5 months, over 90 years ago.

And this building was built for people — mostly men — with a different connection to this country.

It was a palace for hockey, for Elvis and the Beatles.

A lot happened here, many beautiful things, some awful things.

And when the builders moved on down the street, people in our university community joined with others to imagine and build something new here.

A place for all of us.

A place where we are communicating our trust in you today as graduates.

More recently, another improbable future, led by Indigenous peoples and joined by others, was brewing.

A growing number of members of our community have lost trust in the original namesake of this university.

It took an act of supreme imagination, a willingness to build.

Led by President Lachemi, the Chancellor, and many of you here today.

To turn THAT university, something that had been imagined and built by others, into Toronto Metropolitan University, whose name adorns your diplomas today.

Trust isn’t a one-way relationship – I tell you to trust me, and you must trust.

Trust can be broken and lost.

But when that happens, the answer isn’t to trust everyone less.

To close in, or tear down.

It’s to trust… differently.

So many times in our history, where trust has been broken or lost, new things were imagined and created.

And new groups of people came together to gain trust back — for everyone

And I’m telling you twenty twenty-three graduating engineering students — you can be at the centre of that.

To find trust again, and to imagine and build differently.

You can do this in your work — whether as professional engineers, entrepreneurs or change-makers in your community.

And for our country, for Canada.

Not only can you do this — but you will do this.

For two special reasons, reasons that are true of this group and no other group.

You and your classmates graduated this afternoon and no one else.

Here’s the first reason:

First, no other profession comes with so much built-in trust; trust to imagine and to build.

After all, after you add up all the learning you did in classes, your labs, and your internships, online and in-person, isn’t that what engineering is?

For us, for society?

Knowledge and experience that tells us we can trust you?

To imagine and build the world around us?

That’s what you get with this diploma.

That;s the first reason.

The second reason that we can invest our trust in you is

That no other cohort has gone through university in the way you have — and none may ever again.

Starting normal, then interrupted, and now whatever we are calling our new normal.

Now, let’s think back to that interruption — and for most of us it was March two thousand and twenty:

What was it like?

Think back — what emotions did you feel?

During circumstances that felt – well, if not impossible, then close to it?

Who felt flat?



With no agency … no control.

Who felt damaged?

Who maybe carries some of this damage with them today?

When I did Zoom or phone office hours with my students, 

When students were huddled in a closet or in a cafe or wherever they could get internet connection, that’s what I heard.

That’s what I saw.

We have all been damaged — but you are not broken.

You are not broken.

You are here today!

you know something about resilience.

You’ve lived it and you’ve learned it

Because you’re engineering students

You know about resilient systems, you’ve shown your resilience, your anti-fragility.

And everyone here today has reason to be proud of that. 

Every family member today is a proud family member. 

Because you’ve demonstrated that.

You didn’t just show it by absorbing it and taking it.

You did a few things too.

Sometimes, you had to be a pain in the ass.

(Sorry that word slipped)

And I see some of the graduates here specifically acted in certain ways

To get what was your right.

Sometimes, you did it by reveling in the small joys — a walk, a game, a good book.

Sometimes, by stumbling across a new hack, a new community, a new connection.

That made online learning more bearable – or maybe even better.

In other words, you got here by embracing your humanity, and humanity around you.

During a situation that felt inhuman.

I heard that in office hours too.

Looking beyond, it wasn’t just your experience

You saw how the systems that were there for you – or supposed to be there for you – worked, or failed.

You learned who and what you could count on.

And what and who let you down.

And you’re on the cusp of entering a world where you can, you will, you must, demand better.

And help us deliver it.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with change-makers for many years now.

Helping them imagine and build a better community.

And here’s a little secret for you.

The most effective leaders aren’t individual heroes

You know the ones who seem like they have arrived fully formed and they’ve figured it all out.

Some people seem like that, but they don’t exist.

Some might appear to be individuals who overcame obstacles by their sheer force of will — and yes there are people like that including some of you today.

All of you today.

But real change comes from groups of effective leaders.

Forged in a collective fire.

That gives them a shared sense of what to build, whom to trust, and how to imagine a different future.

Graduates of twenty twenty-three, you are now forged.


You are a very remarkable, very distinct, championship team.

Worthy of this palace.

And today, the tides and tables have turned.

We’re going to cast our lot with you, and put our trust in this team.

So I’m going to end with three numbers – not numbers to hold you back, not numbers to make you feel bad about yourself, but numbers to keep in focus as we imagine and build a better country.

The first is twenty thirty-five

In that year, Canada will be one hundred and sixty-eight years old … and approximately one Canadian in four will be sixty-five years old or older.

What country are we building for them?

What country are you building for them?

Are we going to just leave that to the nursing students?

The second is one point five million.

That’s how many homes Ontario wants to build in the next decade, so we can once imagine that most basic right — to a home, for you and your family should you be allowed to at least imagine having a family.

As my wife and I have been blessed to have – with Jasmine and Patrick who are here today.

How will we build those homes? Just by muscling through? Just by leaving them to the urban planners?

And the third is two trillion.

That’s how many Canadian dollars, in investment, it’s estimated we’ll need to make Canada carbon-neutral by 2050.

How can we get that capital?

How will we deploy it?

Do you want to leave it to the business students?

To the politicians?

We can’t let those people do that by themselves. 

We need this team.

Those three numbers.

They’re hanging over us in the best possible way.

Because they are a challenge.

To trust differently

To stand, side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder

With you and your team and your families forged in this fire.

If you are willing to trust us.

And if you don’t believe that.

If you don’t believe that we can tackle these challenges together with this team.

Just know that I believe it.

That in time, even as we stumble

We will see this day, June twenty-second, as the day we pledged to imagine and build a better country.

On a new foundation of trust.

With a new team forged in fire.

To imagine and build this great country.

Thank you very much.