For the first time in the school’s 40-year history, a woman has been appointed to lead Pearson College into the future.
Désirée McGraw, one of Canada’s most influential advocates for youth engagement, international cooperation and sustainable development, was appointed president of Pearson College Monday morning (April 20).
“We were looking for a very special candidate who reflects and respects the extraordinary role Pearson College has played, and will play, in Canada and the world,” said Tony Macoun, chair of the college’s board of directors. “We are thrilled that someone with Ms. McGraw’s principled commitment to educating and engaging the next generation of leaders is going to guide the college into a new era of growth and achievement.”
McGraw brings more than 25 years of experience as an educator, advocate and advisor who has worked to engage young people in global issues ranging from nuclear disarmament to climate change. She has earned accolades for her leadership of the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation, as well as in her previous roles as a senior advisor to the Prime Minister of Canada, director of policy to the Minister of International Cooperation and co-founder of Al Gore’s Climate Project in Canada. Since 2002, McGraw has also lectured on International Development at McGill University. In 2010, McGraw was designated a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and was recently named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women by the Financial Post and Quebec’s “huit femmes incontournables” in Première en Affaires.
“Pearson College is more important than ever before, and I’m excited to work with students, alumni, staff, faculty, volunteers and partners in fulfilling its mission,” McGraw said of her appointment. “The world needs a new generation of change agents, undaunted by complexity, to tackle national and global issues. There is an unparalleled sense of commitment, community, empathy and intellectual curiosity here at Pearson. It’s a great place to learn together, and to learn to lead in uncertain times.”
“My first priority,” McGraw said after the announcement, “is to immerse myself in the culture here. I’ve told everyone to treat me as if I’m a first year student so I can learn from people who have been here longer and really become a part of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”
She said the reason she accepted the offer was not only because she believes in what the college stands for – its goal of developing the future leaders of our society – but also the fact that it is in paradise, “both in terms of the location and the mindset of those here.”
She said she was initially brought out to view the campus and speak with the hiring committee in February. “It was a gazillion degrees below zero in Montreal when I left, and here there were flowers blooming and it was just gorgeous,” she said, laughing, so it was hard to say no when the offer came.
Her “outward-facing” priorities, she said, are to ensure that Pearson has a sustainable and growing funding base so they can continue to do the work they do well into the future, and to get their message out into the world and share their stories.
And she said they need to continue to innovate.
“We’ve been at the cutting edge of curriculum and programming for decades,” McGraw said. “And imitation is the most sincere form of flattery – schools around the world have been catching up and modelling themselves after us, so we need to think, ‘how do we continue to improve? How do we continue to move forward and continue to be cutting edge and world-leading?'”
That process will involve an examination within the community of what its members want, as well as external research of best practices from both sister schools and other institutions to find what’s best for Pearson in terms of long-term direction, she said.
McGraw will officially arrive back on campus to begin her role on Aug. 1, and her family will be joining her shortly thereafter.