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Former Governor General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson Shares Her Story of Making the Most of Life’s Opportunities

BY THE RIGHT HONOURABLE ADRIENNE CLARKSON

Adrienne is the Former Governor General of Canada and co-founder of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship. For more information about the ICC, including how you can participate in a community citizenship ceremony, visit icc-icc.ca.

 

The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson.
May Truong Photography

My father believed you could take chances, but only if you did so while not letting go of whatever it was you still had in your hand. My family took refuge in Canada in 1942 when I was about two-and-a-half years old. Like many new Canadians, our journey wasn’t the easiest, but we were welcomed. I was determined to be everything my parents dreamed for me, but little did I know my arrival to a country that so warmly accepts newcomers would set me on such a remarkable journey.

I spent nearly 30 years working at the CBC at a time when television was at its most powerful and influential. Many say my presence on the airwaves was newsworthy. I simply saw it as an opportunity to create, to bring stories I believed were important to audiences who wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to hear them. I chose to work at the CBC because, well, they picked me. I wasn’t the product of their desire to have a novelty. Yes I was new and different, but it wasn’t because I was a Chinese woman. It was because I could do the job; they were intrigued by me. But I had no illusions. If I had not done well, I would have been out the door, just like anyone else. These high stakes fuelled my desire to do better, to learn more, to use my skills and knowledge of what makes a good story to their fullest. I still do.

I accepted the role of Governor General because I thought I could make the role modern and relatable to all Canadians. I brought attention to neglected parts of our country; parts I believed represented our strengths, like the North and Aboriginal people. I also celebrated the arts by introducing Canada’s artists and creators to countries around the world.

I’m proud to say that today, nearly 10 years after leaving office, I can be waiting for the subway and people still come up to me and say they appreciate what I did. My appointment was proof that Canada is a place where the sky is the limit. It became obvious to me that I needed to ensure today’s new citizens feel—as I felt when I came here—they have the same access to everything Canada has to offer.

My legacy is to create a sense of belonging for all Canadians regardless of whether their family has been here for five years or five generations. It has come to life through the non-profit I co-founded with John Ralston Saul, the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.

The ICC helps accelerate new citizens’ integration into Canadian life through original programs that give them free access to Canada’s cultural places and spaces, and by celebrating their newfound citizenship at compelling community citizenship ceremonies. While our focus is on encouraging new citizens to take their rightful place in Canada, we fully believe that being active and contributing your best to our country is everyone’s responsibility.

Today, I feel that everything I have done—from my education to my career—I continue to use in new ways. I’m always reflecting. Up to this day, this moment, I’m thinking of my place in this country—how I got here and how I can pass my learning, wisdom and love for Canada to our newest Canadians. Reinvention isn’t something you should do to yourself to make things work; it’s what you can do to the situations and opportunities that come your way.


Madame Clarkson says…

Only pursue things you’re truly passionate about. I could always tell when I really cared because I would want to pay them for the opportunity—but of course you must never do this!

• Don’t do things solely for the money. Do them because you like them, because you believe you can make a difference.

• You should never have to kick down doors. Things that are meant to be are not difficult. That doesn’t mean they don’t require effort or hard work.

• Keep your curiously alive—make yourself a nuisance with it. Use it to do things and learn from others. Otherwise you’ll just die on the vine.