A few words at a happy event


Thank you, Mme. Chancellor. Thank You, Mr. President, and Thank you, University of Victoria, for this tremendous honour. I obviously have many connections to UVic, but I should start by mentioning a very special one. My wife is a proud graduate of the University of Victoria. She doesn’t normally accompany me to many functions, but she couldn’t miss being back here, in this magical place, where she was awarded her degree several years ago. Her whole family was here with her in this beautiful hall, proudly watching her collect the fruit of her many years of work and study, just like your parents, your siblings, and your friends are proud of you now. Congratulations to you graduates of the class of 2015.

The citation for this honorary degree refers to my advocacy on behalf of Canada’s research community. I am deeply honored.

This recognition by UVic not only honors me but also many of my colleagues in the mathematical community, here in Western Canada and elsewhere. I am delighted that some of them are here today: Ed Perkins, Reinhard Illner, Frank Ruskey, to name a few. For without them, none of this could have been accomplished.

But no one can really give lessons in activism to the scientists of UVic. Their magnificent work on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change carried them to the 2007 Nobel Prize. Class of 2015, you should be extremely proud to graduate from a university that is at the forefront of the struggle for a sustainable planet.

Mathematicians may not be known as activists, but their awareness of the issues that often challenge societies runs deep. This is because they learn and live these challenges through the lives of their mathematical heroes.

We learn early in our careers about gender discrimination in the sciences, through the life of Sophie Germain. This great French mathematician had to use a male pseudonym in her writings so that her colleagues would take her discoveries seriously.

We remember Emmy Noether. Worshiped by both physicists and mathematicians, this woman scientist couldn’t find an academic job in 1930’s Germany.

We see the challenges of racial and cultural diversity through the eyes of Cambridge University don, G. H. Hardy, and young Indian mathematical genius, Ramanujan. Just as the 2007 play, “A disappearing number,” we can imagine how diverging and converging series in mathematics become a metaphor for the struggles of non-conforming diasporas.

And I don’t need to remind you of the personal battles of John Nash, the beautiful mind, who grappled with mental illness and its stigma, or the tragic life of Alan Turing, who was harassed till his death for his sexual orientation.

Our discipline is behind the creation of the statistical sciences, computer sciences, operation research, financial engineering, … and Google, to name a few. Yet, it is so often misunderstood and sometimes disregarded as irrelevant.

I see it as our civic duty to advocate for the mathematical sciences, because Canada deserves to be a leading nation in this most fundamental of human activities.

And in this spirit, I am thrilled to share this moment with the fine mathematical scientists of UVic, the very place, where 20 years ago, we launched PIMS, the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences.

Twenty years later, PIMS, which now includes a dozen universities in Canada and the US Pacific North West, has contributed enormously to Canada’s current position on the world’s map of scientific discovery and innovation.

And it is so appropriate for this occasion to sing the praises of UVic’s senior administrators. In particular, Dr. Alex McCauley and then Vice-President Research, Dr. Martin Taylor, whose support and assistance were so crucial, back then for the creation of PIMS.

Dr. Taylor also supported us through the creation of the Banff International Research Station. This North-American initiative underscores how international cooperation adds up to more than what any nation could accomplish alone, but also how Canada can be a focal point for such collaborations.

Let me conclude by saying that our advocacy is in no way based on a sense of entitlement. It is rooted in a deep sense of commitment to Canada. A country that has the potential to be the very best among nations in the pursuit of mathematical excellence that is most basic among human pursuits.

And so I encourage all of you, whether you are in mathematics, the physical sciences, or in humanities, to be activists. Find your cause, and follow it. This is what the academy prepared you for. Thank you, and congratulations to you all.

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One Response to A few words at a happy event

  1. Pingback: Humbled and Proud | Piece of Mind

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