Wednesday afternoon Canada’s own Justin Trudeau became the first world leader to receive an honorary degree from New York University while still in office. He appeared at the NYU 2018 commencement ceremony at Yankee Stadium to receive his honour and give a wide-ranging commencement address to a very receptive crowd.
Though Trudeau never mentioned the American president by name, his points seemed to shade POTUS by simply expressing the exact opposite views in Trump’s own hometown. Trudeau left the more explicit Trump references to NYU’s president Andrew Hamilton who said in his address that he had to pause mid-speech to “send off a presidential tweet.”
Trudeau began by addressing the diversity of the people before him. The 180 Canadians in the 2018 graduating class were just a fraction of the fifth of NYU students who come from abroad. The first portion of the PM’s speech focused on the asset of diversity and how listening to others’ points of view will broaden your own and help you challenge your own perceptions of the world. He explained how a post-graduation trip around the world taught him the value in diversity of ideas and experience.
“My trip was essential to my continued broader education because it forced me really for the first time as an adult to meet, engage, befriend people whose views and experiences, ideas, values and language were very different from my own,” Trudeau said. He also encouraged students to get out and engage the world in spite of people who would seek to keep them in the bubble of their own communities.
“Is it really just the issue of physical safety that makes our loved ones so anxious at the idea of us getting out there?” he questioned.
“Or is it the threat that if we look past our frames – the frames of our own lives, of our own communities’ structured values and belief systems – to truly engage people who believe fundamentally different things we could perhaps be transformed into someone new and unfamiliar to those who know and love us?
“See, there’s no question that today’s world is more complex than it was in the mid-1990s. There are serious and important problems that we are grappling with and will continue to grapple with,” he added, “But we are not going to arrive at mutual respect – which is where we solve common problems – if we cocoon ourselves in an ideological, social or intellectual bubble.”
He then touted the policies that truly set the Prime Minister apart from his American neighbour. He spoke about the number of refugees Canada has accepted and settled, his cabinet’s focus on climate change (and the issue’s obvious legitimacy) and his fight for human rights both domestically and internationally.
He returned to the idea of listening to others by advocating for not just “tolerating” other viewpoints, but really listening and respecting those who express them (as long as those viewpoints are not hateful or dangerous).
“Think about it,” he implored, “Saying ‘I tolerate you,’ actually means something like, ‘Okay, I grudgingly admit that you have the right to exist, but just don’t get up in my face about it. Or date my sister.’ There’s not a religion in the world that asks you to ‘tolerate thy neighbour.’”
Unfortunately, this New York trip isn’t all fun, games and subtle political jabs for Trudeau though. His time in the U.S. marks the beginning of yet another round of NAFTA talks (maybe that’s why he’s not feeling too gracious toward the president right now). Earlier this week the PM had a phone conversation with Donald Trump during which he said that a deal is within reach, but only if the Americans walk back some of their more outlandish demands.
With that in mind, Trump will also be in our neck of the woods for the first time since becoming president next month when Trudeau hosts the G7 Summit in Quebec. That’s sure to be interesting.