President’s Column: A Century of Community

UBC president and vice-chancellor Arvind Gupta
UBC president and vice-chancellor Arvind Gupta

There are very few institutions that can be measured in centuries, but universities feature prominently among them. Later this year, UBC will be celebrating the Centennial of its first class in 1915-16. This Centennial year, running from September 2015 to May 2016, will be all about reaching out to our communities and inviting them to connect with us.

As connected alumni, you know the importance of keeping in touch with the university and with each other, wherever you are. There are more than 300,000 alumni in more than 140 countries, and our UBC LinkedIn Higher Ed group already has close to 200,000 alumni and student members.

In fact, alumni are UBC’s single largest university community. This is why the launch event for the Centennial will include the official opening of the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre. This historic event will take place on September 30, 2015 – exactly 100 years since the first class began their studies at UBC in 1915.

If anything symbolizes the distance we have travelled in a relatively short time it is the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre. This new centre – the first of its kind in Canada – is a place for connecting, collaborating and lifelong learning. It is a place that supports innovation, social discourse and the exchange of knowledge and experience. It is a home and a resource for our alumni community for life.

Our alumni are a community but they are also working in our communities through a vast spectrum of causes that align with UBC’s desire to serve and improve our society. The your evolution initiative (yourevolution.ubc.ca) highlights around 300 community projects that our alumni are involved in, right here in BC and as far away as Guatemala, India and Burkina Faso. It is inspiring to read their stories and to see other alumni joining in. This, to me, is the very definition of community.

In our community closer to home, the university and the Alma Mater Society have been deeply involved in the recent transit referendum in BC, urging students to make their voices heard and help us all plan a sustainable future for transit here in the Lower Mainland.

Our community in the Okanagan – now 10 years old! – continues to demonstrate the truly transformational power that is unleashed when universities and their communities grow hand in hand.

Downtown, at UBC Robson Square, we welcome more than 40,000 community members for adult educational programs, meetings, conferences and public seminars each year.

And our Learning Exchanges in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside and in downtown Kelowna are hubs where faculty, staff, alumni, students and local citizens come together for learning programs tailor-made for their communities.

So when I look back to 1915 at that first community of 379 students who put their faith in this brand new entity called the University of British Columbia, I am struck by their courage and their sheer optimism, even as the Great War raged in Europe.

Now, one century later, our university has been transformed by, with and through our communities and I look forward to celebrating with you in the Centennial year ahead.

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