Mary Simon shares lessons on leadership at University of Alberta grad ceremony
"Being a leader means being a person of integrity, honesty and determination"
Mary Simon, who until last week served as president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Alberta June 12 and delivered a convocation address to graduates on “lessons learned on leadership.”
Speaking in Edmonton’s Northern Jubilee auditorium, Simon talked about how as a young girl, she and her family lived in Kangiqsualujjuaq.
“We lived what was then a very traditional lifestyle, speaking only Inuktitut, travelling only by dog team, and hunting, fishing and gathering our food. We lived in a tent in the bush, and with the wood stove blaring hot, my grandmother Jeannie would teach us the legends of our past and how family ties bound us together as a culture,” Simon said.
Those early years grounded Simon in my language and customs – “and the lessons I learned have stayed with me throughout my lifetime.”
“Though I didn’t fully understand it then, those years were undoubtedly my first introduction to leadership, and to the values that would guide me through my career,” she said. “I believe that being a leader means being a person of integrity, honesty and determination – on good days and bad.
Adversity also plays a role in shaping leaders, she said because “from adversity can come the gift of compassion and resilience.”
“It has been so in my life,” said Simon, a former president of Makivik Corp. and the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (now Council) and a past Canadian ambassador for the Arctic and Denmark.
Leadership demands sacrifice, risk and “informed experimentation,” she said, with so-called “breakthrough” moments to think across boundaries.
“In this age of connectivity, we need to reward cross-boundary thinking in leaders of today and tomorrow,” Simon said. “This is especially true in the face of such complex and seemingly insurmountable issues that I encounter every day, such as youth suicide, child hunger and the sad, sad fact that three-quarters of Inuit youth are not completing high school.”
Simon encouraged the graduates to be curious – to seek out an understanding of other perspectives, and, where conflicting or contradictory perspectives arise, to mediate solutions.
“Finally, I encourage you to consult well and communicate often. And understand that consultation does not mean communicating pre-determined results,” she said. “I am urging you to build on the training you have received here and to use those skills to build bridges with aboriginal Canadians. That difficult road between a nation’s experience and its destiny involves you.”
Simon, an Officer of the Order of Canada, has also received the National Order of Quebec, the Gold Order of Greenland, the National Aboriginal Achievement Award, the Gold Medal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the Symons Medal.
Inducted into the International Women’s Forum Hall of Fame, Simon is a Fellow of the Arctic Institute of North America and the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.
She previously received honorary doctorates of law degrees from McGill University, Queen’s University, Trent University and the University of Guelph.