Convocation speech
Dr. J. Levy
May 24th, 2001

I am deeply honoured to be awarded this degree today partly because UBC is almost home for me. UBC provided the environment for me to be able to grow and develop both when I was an undergraduate and later as a teacher and researcher. Because so much of my life and been centered around UBC it is difficult for me NOT to make comparisons between "then" and "now", so please indulge me a little. When I graduated, I received a BA (hon) in bacteriology and immunology. There was no faculty of science – it was arts and science. Also, the number of students graduating in science was much lower – the total number of students registered at UBC in 1955 (the year I graduated) was between 5,000 and 6,000, so you can imagine the number of people graduating in science. There were 12 in my department – that is hard to imagine now.

BUT, I think what has changed even more than this is – the number of options that people graduating in science have today. When I graduated we had a few options – graduate studies (which I opted for and never regretted), do teacher’s training, or try to get a job as a technician in a research, public health or commercial laboratory. That has really changed today – there are so many options.

We are living through a major transition in this country and many others, but Canada in particular is feeling the pain as well as excitement of seeing the traditional resource based industries giving way to the so-called "new economy" in which knowledge based industries are beginning to dominate the economy. This is certainly starting to happen in B.C. in both biotechnology and high technology. There is now more job creation in these areas than there is in the traditional industries. These opportunities didn’t exist in Canada until very recently.

I know the young hate receiving advice from their elders but I will take a chance on trying it here. But perhaps you don’t even need it and have already factored it into your lives. It is simply this – never close doors on possible options and opportunities. This is a rapidly changing world with incredible new opportunities being created all the time. If I had had blinkers on when I graduated I would certainly not have pursued a Ph.D. degree – I was certainly a bit of an anomaly in my day. I was the only woman in my class who did post graduate work. Also, in 1980 when I was asked to become a founder of QLT because of the technologies we had in our lab, I decided to take a chance, even though I was completely happy in my my academic career and loved the basic research and contact with students. I thought at the time that this would provide a new learning experience for me – and it certainly was – I had a lot to learn. My greatest moments have been experienced as a result of taking my scientific training and bringing it to bear on helping in the development of a revolutionary treatment for both cancer and the commonest cause of blindness in older people, a disease called macular degeneration or AMD. Being part of something which started out as fascinating science and ended up by effectively changing the lives of thousands of people is an incredible experience. I feel truly blessed to have been part of that.

We live in a time where continuous learning is absolutely essential if we are to lead full and rewarding lives. I believe I have lived this and intend to continue for the rest of my life. With the degrees you are receiving today, you have been given the training and the tools to enable you to take advantage of your opportunities to learn continuously and to take advantage of the many options you have. The future is yours. This places responsibility on you all to treat our planet with responsibility and the respect it deserves. Try to find a path in life in which you love what you do, and if you can make the world a better place by virtue of what you do, that is an incredible bonus which will bring you joy. Good luck to you all and congratulations.