When Henry Marshall Tory addressed the first convocation of the University of Alberta in 1908, he spoke with passion and conviction about the role of education at the beginning of the 20th century. He founded his vision of the University of Alberta on the dignity and agency of ordinary people.
“The modern state university,” he said, “has sprung from a demand on the part of the people themselves for intellectual recognition, a recognition that only a century ago was denied them… The people demand that knowledge shall not be the concern of scholars alone. The uplifting of the whole people shall be its final goal.”
How would the modern university uplift the whole people? It would provide nurture and nourishment to all who entered, shaping them into citizens and leaders capable of solving the problems facing society. The University of Alberta would be at once a place of personal transformation and also an institution of widespread social, economic, and cultural leadership. Through steadfast pursuit of the truth, it would not adhere to tradition for tradition’s sake.
In his address, Tory pledged that the university would pay attention to and value the experience of the people it served, providing research into commonplace problems and taking answers into the community. The university would also feed the people’s intellectual curiosity and spiritual needs and enrich the province’s cultural life. It would also become a research university with the capacity to advance knowledge and provide discoveries with worldwide impact—discoveries, in other words, that could change the world.
Since the founding of the University of Alberta, young people of great promise have come to our campus, and while here, found the support, encouragement, and inspiration they needed to become the people they aspired to be. This story—with the uplifting of ordinary people into extraordinary leaders and community builders at its heart—is the story of the U of A and on it rests the foundation and substance of this great university.