Message to ICCIT 2020 Graduates

Prof. Rhonda McEwen profile photoDear Graduates,

Many congratulations to you and your loved ones sharing your triumph today. I salute each and every one of you. You did it!

I remember my own undergraduate graduation ceremony with pride. I also know that I remember very little about what was said at my own commencements – I was even the valedictorian and gave a speech at my undergraduate graduation and was present at all three of my graduate convocations, and still I don’t remember a thing. So while I have no expectation that you remember anything I am about to write as you convocate, I hope you remember this feeling of success. Take a few seconds to drink it in and store it away, and then reach for it when you need a boost on a dark day.

These past years, university are for you just a small part of a full life that you are living. Like I did, you faced moments of extreme joy and have laughed yourselves silly over somethings or other. You have also been tested like you have never been before. Apart from mid-term and final exams where your understanding and knowledge were tested, along the way your assumptions were tested, your beliefs, patience, and doubts. And all this while simultaneously managing real-life challenges – relationships, family, finances, food! You faced intense moments of adversity where it was you versus you. Some of them brought you to your knees. And yet you came out on top. Those hard days that challenged you to your core also helped determine who you are today. And you will look back at this time and smile inside.

While every period in history feels particularly intense for those who are in that moment, we all decide how we want to take our place – what roles we will play. As you graduate today, we are in the grip of a difficult time – both in terms of the pandemic and the reckoning with horrific displays of anti-Black racism in the US and worldwide. We are also in an interesting time. My technology research in the area of human-machine interaction becomes increasingly cognate with all of yours: advances in biotechnology include using robotic workstations in labs; digital technologies provide both the cause and algorithmic solution to fraudulent transactions; blockchain is being taught by members of the American Accounting Association to support data-driven decision-making; social platforms are core channels for politics and for product marketing; and days ago two astronauts aboard SpaceX's rocket ship thundered away from Earth ushering in a new era in commercial space travel. Where there is darkness, always seek the light.

So I ask you, in this defining period in history, where will you choose to be?  Are you on the sidelines supporting or dissenting; are you a passive observer; are you recording and analysing it all for future generations; or are you a leader near the front, shaping the direction, or are you at the back, guarding the rear? And while tuning out from all of this difficulty, drawing the curtains, and hiding indoors is sometimes attractive, it is not really a sustainable option.

Our 2020 UTM Valedictorian, Habon Ali has asked you to “bet on yourself, embrace failure, and lean on your friends and family.” I echo Habon’s words and sentiments – you have what it takes, in terms of knowledge and skills as well as in determination and diligence. Your ICCIT faculty are with you and we will always be in your corner – some of your biggest fans. All of the ICCIT faculty have asked me to convey their congratulations, and a couple of them have added messages to you that you can read below.

Keep in touch with us (we love our alumni family), connect to me on LinkedIn, and keep pushing. Spread your wings and fly!

Professor McEwen


Message from Prof. Tracey Bowen (

Congratulations, you made it - you are all about to graduate! I know that this is supposed to be one of the happiest, most memorable times for you - and it will be. But, I urge you to remember all the smaller moments throughout these past years - special moments with friends, learning something new that changed how you see the world, or celebrating after a final exam. All these moments got you here today. You are all wonderful, creative and compassionate individuals. You will show the world what courage and resilience really looks like - you are the class of 2020! It has been my pleasure getting to know you and I will miss you. Stay strong and go make a difference!!

Message from Prof. Steve Szigeti (

Sitting on stage and watching a sea of happy and proud faces is one of my favourite events in the academic year and one that I’ll miss this summer. But as I tell my senior students in our last class of the year, please keep in touch. Keep in touch with your peers. Keep in touch with your professors. And consider how small our world is and how narrow and fragile our networks can seem. So get out there. Make a difference. Have fun. And be good to each other. I’ll be rooting for you.


Rhonda McEwen, PhD.
Canada Research Chair in Tactile Interfaces, Communication and Cognition.
Director and Associate Professor, Institute of Communication, Culture, Information & Technology (ICCIT).
University of Toronto Mississauga | ICCIT (Mississauga) & iSchool (St. George)