Last Lecture offers meaningful lessons to class of 2017

Four people dressed in silly glasses and feather boas at Last Lecture celebration
Friday, April 28, 2017 - 9:41am
Sharon Aschaiek

Undergraduate students at the University of Toronto Mississauga preparing to graduate this spring or fall received an inspirational sendoff on April 26 at the university’s Last Lecture event.

The mood was thick with elation and anticipation at the Innovation Complex Rotunda as almost 300 students participated in the popular annual celebration. As a violinist played pop tunes such as Adele’s Hello and The Weeknd’s I Feel It Coming, the students, decked out in chic cocktail dresses and formal suits, sipped champagne and mocktails, munched on samosas and cheeseburger sliders, and took playful pictures at the selfie station. But their main goal was to learn about the secrets of success from UTM alumni and top Facebook executive Alfredo Tan (honours B.Sc., 1998).

The company’s group director of global marketing solutions in Latin America shared what he wished he had considered more when he graduated. While knowledge has value, he said, what’s more powerful is having the right perspective. He told about how, when he was in the Philippines last year helping to launch and lead Facebook’s operation in that country, he observed people affected by crushing poverty. As a native of the Southeast Asian nation, who immigrated to Canada as a toddler with his parents and grandmother, Tan realized it just as easily could have been his family struggling to survive. The experience fundamentally shifted Tan’s thinking on what it means to be successful.

“The measure of you as a person isn’t going to be the cars that you drive, the wealth you accumulate or the power you have, but did you help people that couldn’t help themselves,” Tan said. “Your job is to make the most of what you’ve been given, and do incredible things for those who have no chance.”

Tan also discussed how, after the deaths of his father and grandmother during and shortly after his time at UTM, he came to understand deeply how family and friends matter more than career mobility. He has also learned to shed his preoccupation with the past and future in order to enjoy the moment. He urged the students not to wait until they retire to knock things off their bucket list. Finally, Tan encouraged the students to apply a road-trip mentality to life by appreciating the journey as much as the destination.

“Don’t rush to get to your dream spot. Enjoy the moments along the way. Stop for people in need,” Tan said. “The things that make it fun are the detours, bumps and pit stops; they add to the experience.”

The 90-minute event included a motivational address by the 2017 class valedictorian, psychology student Nolan Anderson. He shared his academic and mental health struggles during his first year at McGill University, before transferring to UTM and gaining a “second chance” as he rediscovered his passion for soccer and began volunteering as a peer health educator.

“At UTM, we have gained the ability to be resilient…we have the ability to overcome obstacles in our own unique ways,” Anderson said.

Event emcee Professor Ulrich Krull, UTM’s interim vice-president and principal, tied together the common threads from the talks: “We all have aspirations for what we want to achieve…but what really counts are the people around us, and being grateful for the people who support us and make life worth living.”