What changes, what does not change

Handshake

This year, I attended my tenth convocation as Dean of Science, and for the tenth time I stood in a tent and shook approximately 1,000 hands. I have learned a few things over the course of these convocations, some important, some not so important. It is important to shake everyone’s hand. It would not be right to do this online with a video. Yes, there were big hands and small hands, sweaty hands and dry hands. Those who shake many hands from long lines carefully size up their next partner. We know that imposingly tall athletes have a firm but measured grip. They know they can hurt you, but they do not. Painful grips come from excited students who are not that big, as they do not realize they can hurt you. In any case, I personally congratulated every Science graduate; I shook every hand, carefully in some cases, because it is respectful and important for me to do so.

One of this year’s graduates was Rubin Gruber, who received an honorary degree, for whom the importance of personal connection is central. Years ago, Rubin and I had lunch, and he talked about his love of the mesmerizing art of M. C. Escher and the similarly mesmerizing photographs of Edward Burtynsky. Rubin earned his Bachelor of Science degree from McGill University in 1965 in Mathematics and Physics, and many with that background are fascinated by Escher’s work. But the experience of only the art was insufficient for Rubin, he told me that he wanted to meet Escher and Burtynsky. So he travelled, eventually arriving at Escher’s door, and similarly tracked down Burtynsky. Rubin understands that the personal connection is paramount.

After leaving McGill and doing a Masters in Mathematics at Wayne State, Rubin became a successful serial entrepreneur, a leader in the international telecommunications and data communications world for more than 40 years. He has been a pioneer in Voice over Internet Protocol, founding and investing in dozens of companies, including ten that have gone public. Rubin’s serial entrepreneurship has as paramount the personal connection in the companies’ early stages: “… hiring the [right] people – both the managers and the engineers…” before the “…company gets too large”. He now focuses on helping others build their own companies by investing and advising in board positions.

I mentioned Rubin earned his Bachelor of Science degree at McGill. This was possible due to financial support from a McConnell Scholarship. In recognition, he established the Rubin Gruber Scholarships for students at McGill, because “There’s nothing better than helping others in the same situation that I was in. The feeling is absolutely amazing. I can’t imagine a more satisfying thing to do. McGill taught me how to think. I made some good friends, too and I still have them to this day.”

And there is one last thing. Almost every year Rubin comes back to campus, not to see me, but to see the students he has helped. And look them in the eyes, talk to them about their lives and plans. And shake their hands.

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