A smart and caring journey

Chris Kennedy is the Superintendent of Schools / CEO with the West Vancouver School District (West Vancouver, BC). He has taught secondary English and Social Studies, and been both an elementary and secondary school principal.


It was almost five years ago that I wrote a post Smart and Caring. I was taken by our new (at the time) Governor General of Canada, His Excellency, the Right Honourable David Johnston, and his call for a smart and caring nation. I was initially struck by his installation speech:
Anyone who has achieved any degree of success and been placed in a leadership position can point to dozens of teachers, mentors and coaches who have made them better persons along the way. In my case, they number in the hundreds.

During my term, we will find ways to properly recognize our teachers who are responsible for our intellectual development. If there is one trumpet call from my remarks today let it be “Cherish Our Teachers”.

I have always had great admiration for the teachers and educators of this country.

I had the chance to be part of a program with His Excellency [in March] in West Vancouver, and five years later, his words, his message and his vision for our country are still striking.  At the invitation of the West Vancouver Community Foundation, and other local foundations, His Excellency spoke to a full theatre of community members, and participated in a panel of local citizens that I had the good fortune to facilitate.

He once again spoke about the power of a strong public education system.  He also returned to his theme of “smart and caring”, one he has regularly covered over the last six years and the connection he has made to Canada’s upcoming 150th birthday.  He said:

And perhaps that’s the greatest gift of all you can make to Canada—to create hope. Because hope, as the ethicist Margaret Somerville once put it, is “the oxygen of the human spirit.”

His Excellency told a number of simple, personal stories related to the giving of blood – something he has done since his youth.  He noted that Canada is one of the few countries of the world, where giving blood is a volunteer activity and it speaks to who we are as a people, noting, “like any nation-state, Canada, of course, is only as strong as its people, as its communities”.    He also linked his beliefs around smart and caring to the current Syrian refugee work, quoting Conrad Sauvé of the Canadian Red Cross:

“We’re dealing with people who are fleeing war. Nobody wants to leave their home. They’re leaving because they don’t have a choice, because they’ve lost hope.”

But he added:

“Their hope now is Canada.”

During the panel, thoughtful local citizens shared their views of a smart and caring nation.  A local entrepreneur and CEO of Earth’s Own Food Group, Maheb Nathoo discussed his views of universal truths including the need for gender equity and commitment to sustainability and the environment.  Local high school student Liam Grant talked about the key role young people could play in community building and Shannon Ozirny, Head of Youth Services and the West Vancouver Memorial Library expanded our view of community raising the need for a smart and caring digital community.  Finally, Adina Williams, a member of Squamish Nation, and student at the University of British Columbia, shared how her view of community has changed in recent years and expanded beyond her First Nations reserve, something she hopes for her entire community through the work of reconciliation.

Towards the end of the session I asked His Excellency about what advice he would give a community like ours.  He spoke about the upcoming 150th birthday for Canada.  He said that he was really taken by Calgary’s Mayor Nenshi and his 3 Things for Calgary initiative.  His Excellency thought this idea was something for others to consider and link it to our nation’s birthday celebrations.  Of course I was left thinking that it would be quite powerful to pull together His Excellency’s belief in a strong public education system, and Mayor Nenshi’s “3 things” challenge – wouldn’t it be great if students, staff and community recognized the sesquicentennial by doing 3 things for their schools and for public education?
So, just what messages from His Excellency stick with me?  A strong public education system is crucial for our country.  We are a smart and caring nation.  There are small things we can all do to contribute.

And I was left with a deep sense of pride in my community who showed so well for His Excellency, and for our country which His Excellency and others spoke of in such high regard.

Here is a link to His Excellency’s speech and here a link to event photos taken by Sonya Adloff.


This article originally appeared in Chris Kennedy’s blog, Culture of Yes.

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