Archived - Address to the Graduating Class of Toronto French School
This page has been archived on the Web.
Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please contact us to request a format other than those available.
Toronto, May 27, 2011
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Ladies and gentlemen, graduates, parents and teachers, good evening.
I would like to begin by thanking Headmaster John Godfrey for having invited me today. One of the great privileges of being the Commissioner of Official Languages is having the opportunity to meet young people who live in both of Canada’s official languages. Celebrating their accomplishments is truly an honour. That is why I take great pleasure in congratulating you on your success.
Graduating from Toronto French School and earning the International Baccalaureate Diploma is no easy task; you should be very proud of yourselves. But you are not the only ones who celebrate today. Throughout your studies, your school, your teachers and your parents were supporting you. There is an old saying that "it takes a village to raise a child." Well, it takes a great school, dedicated teachers and loving, caring parents to get an International Baccalaureate Diploma from TFS.
TFS was the first school to offer a French immersion program in Canada. Indeed, this school is a pioneer in the field. The importance of the TFS academic program is such that, in 2008, Mr. Godfrey, a former minister in Paul Martin’s government, left politics to become the Headmaster at TFS. Mr. Godfrey, who has a deep understanding of international issues and who is also well known for his commitment to education, children and bilingualism, chose to dedicate his career to passing on these values to the students at TFS. This was an honourable choice.
Thanks to Mr. Godfrey, your school, your parents and your teachers, at TFS you were able to develop all your abilities in both of Canada’s official languages. During your studies, your school became your second home. And it gave you the best education possible—a bilingual one. You should be very thankful.
Your parents, in addition to providing for your immediate needs, have encouraged you to succeed in your education. They believed in you and in your abilities, but also in the effectiveness and relevance of the TFS immersion program. Parents should be recognized for this impressive act of faith: sending their children to study in a language that they do not speak demands great courage and no study findings exist that can provide complete assurance. It is always a rigorous and demanding program, in terms of academics and because of the emotional strain it can cause. To this day, parents are asking themselves if it was all worth it. Nobody but you can answer that question. But remember that your parents were there every step of the way. They never stopped believing in what TFS stands for and they never stopped believing in you. Today, you share your success with them. There is no doubt in my mind that, when they look at you today, your parents are telling themselves that they did good. And they’re absolutely right.
As for your teachers, they are competent professionals who are passionate about teaching and who have devoted themselves to sharing their knowledge with all of you. You have learned how to discover, to ask questions, to put forward hypotheses, to think. Your teachers opened your minds to the diversity of languages and cultures, and made you realize how important it is for Canadian citizens to know both official languages. You also owe part of your success to them.
You now have an additional tool to begin your adult life: the French language. But how will you use this tool? Will you use it to better understand your country? Perhaps you will use it to access the other legal tradition in Canada as part of your post-secondary education. Will you use it to enjoy French literature, newspapers, media, everything related to Francophone culture? That will be up to you. Learning French, as with most worthwhile endeavours, requires a long-term commitment.
But just as an athlete who stops training will quickly see his or her performance drop, not using your second language will take you a step back in your language abilities. Use it or lose it. There are many places to exercise your skills, even in your own home: the Internet, the television and the radio. It’s possible to live in French even if you aren’t in Quebec, whether it’s in Toronto, elsewhere in Canada or abroad. I hope that you will have the opportunity to pursue the various interests that you hold close to your heart, and that French will always be at the heart of your interests.
According to a study published by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages in October 2009,Footnote 1 the majority of student participants thought that learning a second language was important, and they wanted more varied and intensive opportunities to improve their second-language skills.
This study also found that, while many universities in Canada offer a range of second-language learning programs and courses, there are some serious gaps and needs that have to be met. In particular, opportunities for intensive second-language study are limited. Moreover, collaboration is weak among English- and French-language institutions in Canada in terms of promoting second-language learning, such as through exchange programs, and university second-language policies and requirements are generally minimal or non-existent. It is up to you to make the extra effort to keep French at the heart of your studies.
To guide you in your research on post-secondary institutions that offer education in French or that recognize the importance of French education, the Office of the Commissioner has launched a new tool on its website.
Briefly, it is an interactive map of Canada that shows the different second-language programs offered across our country. With this tool, you have access to a lot of information on second-language or bilingual programs, courses taught in the second language, opportunities for networking, and exchange programs in which you can study in your second language. It is also a place where you can find support.
For example, by using our tool, you will learn that, as you probably already know, the Glendon campus of York University offers a top-notch liberal arts education in Canada’s two official languages. It is one of the rare university campuses in Canada that offers programs in more than one language. But there are others as well, such as the University of Ottawa and the University of Alberta’s Campus Saint-Jean.
Thanks to our tool, you will be able to learn about even more institutions that allow you to keep French at the heart of your studies. I hope you will find it useful.
Being bilingual offers many advantages. Studies have shown that you can virtually see a change in the structure of the brains of people who speak two languages. According to Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist at York University, being bilingual allows the brain to create additional cognitive networks that make people less susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
You also have to consider the fact that speaking two languages is often a first step towards learning a third. I know a student who learned Hindi to be able to work on a solar energy project in India, and others who went to China and learned Mandarin. All these people have one thing in common: they learned Canada’s other official language first.
Since the tradition at convocation ceremonies is to give advice, I will make the following recommendations. During your lives, you will need to cultivate at least two qualities.
The first is curiosity. Real education is not possible without curiosity. It is the foundation of research, innovation and openness to others. One day, your formal education will end. But your education as adults will never stop. Curiosity will open many doors for you; capitalize on it through reading, travel and a continuous appetite for knowledge.
The second is what I call “lateral ambition.” Everyone knows about “vertical ambition:” the desire to succeed, to climb ladders, to be in charge of projects and teams, to acquire financial security. This is a very praiseworthy ambition. But the secret of a balanced and happy life is very complex. You also have to develop "horizontal ambition"—the desire to keep doing what really interests you, without worrying about your place in the hierarchy. This could involve teaching, writing or research, or another way of sharing what you know with others.
Your success and your happiness do not depend on the professional level that you reach, but rather on what you do in your position once your get there.
What matters is to know how to face the world—and life—with curiosity, and to love what you choose to do. Being bilingual, and perhaps even trilingual, you are on the right track to experience the best of what the world has to offer.
You can now count yourselves among those privileged young Canadians who are able to study and live in Canada’s two official languages. It is up to you to live according to the values of bilingualism and excellence that TFS has instilled in you.
Once again, congratulations to you all, students, parents and teachers!
Best of luck in your endeavours.
- Footnote 1
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Two Languages, a World of Opportunities: Second-Language Learning in Canada’s Universities, October 2009.