Johnston opens lecture series

Governor General, a Queen’s alum, speaks of his time on campus

The Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, spoke of the generosity of two of his Queen’s professors while he was a student in the sixties, at an event in Grant Hall on Saturday.
The Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, spoke of the generosity of two of his Queen’s professors while he was a student in the sixties, at an event in Grant Hall on Saturday.
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Johnston attended Queen’s in the mid-1960s and briefly taught in the Faculty of Law.
Johnston attended Queen’s in the mid-1960s and briefly taught in the Faculty of Law.

Before he was Governor General, David Johnston got a jump start on his law career thanks to Queen’s.

The young student had just completed his law degree at Cambridge in 1965 and was looking to complete his degree in Canadian law. Queen’s allowed him to do this in one year.

“Queen’s very kindly took me in at third year and gave me courses in all three years, which in itself was unusual,” Johnston told the Journal following a talk he gave on campus on Saturday.

Johnston was the inaugural lecturer of the first annual Principals’ Distinguished Visitor’s series. He spoke to a crowd of a few hundred people in Grant Hall, sharing his story about the relationship he forged with two professors who gave him individual tutorials in classes he was missing and couldn’t fit in his time table.

“Enjoy this great place because it is very special,” he said during his talk. “When you leave with your Queen’s degree, recognize that you’ve received a superb education here and have a sense of giving back to your society because you’ve benefited so much from a superb education.” Johnston graduated with his Queen’s law degree in 1966 and went on to build his career in academics which began with a position as assistant professor in the Queen’s Faculty of Law that same year. Before becoming the Right Honourable Governor General, he served as Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University and President of the University of Waterloo.

In address, Johnston spoke of the value of innovation.

“We live in a world where change is a constant,” he told the Journal following the lecture.

“Technological innovation and social innovation to me are very important concepts and societies that thrive are constantly reinventing themselves.”

Johnston said he’s also an avid supporter of international work and study. He added that if he had his way, every university student would have their chance to spend a semester or year abroad to expand their learning experience.

“Minds, like parachutes, work best when open,” he said.

This new lecture series was established “to provide students, faculty, staff and the Kingston community with the opportunity to engage with visitors of the highest regard and distinction,” according to a Queen’s News Centre release.

“I can’t think of a better person to inaugurate with than a person who is not only Governor General, but has been Principal or President of two other universities and passionately cares about higher education in this country,” Principal Daniel Woolf told the Journal following the talk. “So, it just works out really well.” The event will be held annually, Woolf said. The next speaker has not been announced, but Woolf said he looks forward to receiving suggestions from community members.

“It will be a tough act to follow for next year.”

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