David Emerson at June 2017 BCIT Convocation

The Honourable David Emerson on his ‘North Star’

This story first appeared in The Vancouver Sun, June 24 , 2017 with credit to Michael Bernard – Postmedia Content Works.

David Emerson’s resume reads like a patchwork quilt. He has embraced everything from serving in the federal cabinet to leading forest giant Canfor, the Western Bank of Canada and the Vancouver International Airport Authority, to name a few. But he had something very different in mind going through high school in the small town of Grand Prairie, Alta. He wanted to be a professional hockey player.

After graduation, he went to Edmonton and got involved with the Edmonton Oil Kings organization, playing for a Junior B team. “After a year of that, I realized hockey wasn’t going to do it. The one career plan I had, had just blown up in my face.”

The candid discussion on Emerson’s life came just prior to this week’s convocation ceremony at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, where he received an Honorary Doctorate of Technology for his substantial contributions to the province’s economy.

“The BCIT Honorary Doctor of Technology is awarded to individuals who are widely recognized for Outstanding and sustained achievement in their areas of expertise and endeavor. Diana Swain and David Emerson certainly fit this bill. The BCIT Board of Governors is delighted to honour these two outstanding leaders,” said Jack Davidson, Chair, BCIT Board of Governors.

Emerson praised the institute for its role in the B.C. and Canadian economies. “As an educational institution, they truly hit a sweet spot, between teaching and instruction, applied research and providing employment and relevant tools to students.”

While his success speaks for itself, the journey was anything but easy. Emerson frequently found himself plagued by self-doubt or subjected to intense criticism for his actions. “There were always naysayers around me saying, ‘Emerson, what are you doing? Have you lost your mind?’ Every time I took on these new challenges, I had to convince myself that I could get a hold of the banking business, or get a hold of the airport business — not having had any background in airports or aviation—and then the same thing with the forest business. “And I was inevitably stressed out, completely thinking I can’t possibly do this and I am going to fail and the world is going to point at me and laugh,” he confided. “So the really key thing was an education that gave me the ability to think, and then to take risks.”

David Emerson shakes hands with graduate.
David Emerson congratulates graduates at a BCIT June 2017 Convocation ceremony.

In his convocation speech to BCIT graduating students Thursday, Emerson urged them to consider what ultimately gives meaning to their lives.

“It’s all about your ‘North Star’. Your North Star is actually unreachable. It’s your navigational beacon. It offers broad direction guidance under all conditions. Your North Star should capture your inner dreams and passions, and it should be immune to external pressure from others.”

Emerson’s eventual entry into politics—he won two federal riding races in B.C.— involved overcoming what others saw in him as “a thin skin”. It also didn‘t help that he abhorred speaking in public. “Over time, I learned that if you just keep going, if you dig in and make sure you’ve done your homework, that you’ve thought it through and that you’ve looked at every angle, that eventually you do prevail.”

He told the students he is optimistic about B.C.’s future, especially in light of gains in technology. “The good news is that organizations like BCIT are equipping a lot of wonderful young people to use technology to solve problems, whether local or global, and ultimately, make the world a better place. Never before have opportunities for young people been as vast, as varied and exciting as they are today.”

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