I love the month of June—time spent whiling away the hours in my garden, barbecues with friends and the all-important break from campus life. But this year is different. June marks the end of my 40-plus year career in academia. I am on the precipice of retirement and—just like it does for Capilano University’s graduates—June marks the beginning of a new chapter. There is much to celebrate!

After all of these years working in the learning industry, I have two words I want you to remember… be kind.

I recognize this sounds inexplicably simple. Not to mention stereotypically Canadian. Of course, I am an American—one who has come to love and admire Canada’s willingness to embrace the good in the world. I can sincerely say I wish America was like Canada, but let’s put politics aside and focus on kindness, which at face value seems simple enough to achieve. My many years in the field of education, my life lived in several international settings and my own experiences with family, friends and community have taught me that kindness is not easy. And it seems to be in increasingly short supply throughout the world.

A quick scan of recent headlines reveals that stories depicting acts of cruelty, disregard for human rights and conflict outnumber stories of kindness and compassion at the rate of about 40 to one.  Of course, conflict and evil sell papers and reinforce the fears that have built distrust and deceit in our societies. It would seem that we take kindness for granted.

I’ve learned a lot about kindness over the course of my career and especially during my time here at Cap U as your president and vice chancellor. I have witnessed inconceivable acts of kindness. Acts that inspire. Acts that evoke awe and wonderment. Upon reflection, I have not shared these stories often enough with the campus community—especially with our students who hold the future of the world in their hands.

So with that, I am going to leave you with one example of kindness that has stuck with me since meeting a woman named Roshan Thomas in 2013. Roshan and I first met when she came to my office here at the University. She and her husband, Rashim, were planning on sponsoring and relocating several young women from Afghanistan. One of them, Nadeha, was interested in our Early Childhood Education Program.

June 6, 2016 Convocation. Photo: Rob Newell.

June 6, 2016 Convocation. Photo: Rob Newell.

What I learned during our conversation that day was that Roshan had started an independent school in Kabul in 2003—the Sparks Academy. The school’s origins were humble, beginning with just two suitcases worth of teaching materials and enrolling only a few Kindergarten students. The school grew quickly however, and soon there were more than 900 young people enrolled in Kindergarten through to high school.

That young lady from Afghanistan, Nadeha, did, in fact, attend Capilano U and is making good progress toward her degree in Early Childhood Care & Education. Her sisters are also attending public secondary and post-secondary schools in the Lower Mainland.

But there is more to this story of kindness. While Nadeha was living with Roshan’s family here on the North Shore and attending Cap U, Roshan was killed in a terrorist attack in Kabul. Her life was taken while working to better the lives of women and children and to expand the reach and impact of the school she had founded.

Roshan’s kindness cost her—and also her family and friends. Not a day goes by in which I don’t reflect back on my brief meeting with Roshan. Her kindness will continue to inspire me and it will help set a sign post for me as I work to improve our collective future. Roshan’s legacy of kindness will take form in ways she could not have imagined—with me, with Nadeha and her sisters, and with the many other students and families she helped at the Sparks Academy.

Our world has never needed kindness more than at this moment in our collective history. Kindness, and only kindness, can sucker punch the evil and greed that are so firmly rooted in our world today. Our very survival and the survival of this planet are contingent on kindness. Your kindness, my kindness, our kindness. Power, avarice, expertise, and ambition may currently rule the world—but they cannot sustain it.

This is why I am asking you to live a life of kindness.

I want to thank all of you making this university what it is today. Capilano University’s willingness to put students at the heart of everything it does will ensure its continued success and place in the hearts and minds of students and faculty for years to come. I look forward to watching—from the sidelines—with great pride.