David MacNaughton ’67 Returns to Ridley for Graduate Prize Day Address
Despite holding one of the most critical appointments in Canadian public affairs at the moment, Mr. David MacNaughton ’67, Canada’s Ambassador to the United States of America, returned to campus on May 26th to inspire the newest cohort of Ridley graduates to be determined, committed and fearless in their quests to transform our globe.
“I always found that if you try to surround yourself with really smart people who try hard, you can do really great things…And that really came from [Ridley],” reflected Ambassador MacNaughton when asked how his three years as a boarder in Merritt House helped to prepare him for his distinguished career in business, public office and as a diplomat.
According to his classmates, MacNaughton was known for being a personable student, a quiet leader, devoted Sacristan in the Chapel, and skillful athlete in both hockey and football. He came to the school in his Grade 11 year seeking the opportunity to excel academically, while competing athletically — a balance he hadn’t found elsewhere. He explained that beyond thriving in these two areas, he was glad to have found more; a community, camaraderie, focus and drive. This ambition became obvious during his post-secondary studies and early introduction to government.
After exploring his passions abroad by teaching at a seminary school in France for a year, MacNaughton returned to Canada and was swiftly recruited to the University of New Brunswick to play football. There, he completed his Honours Arts Degree and took advantage of a life-shaping opportunity. MacNaughton had attended a Student-Liberal Convention one afternoon in Halifax to observe the candidacy for Student-President of the Atlantic Province. He remembers that the crowd was seemingly unenthusiastic about both nominees and he subsequently decided to throw his hat in the ring. “So I won and became President of the Atlantic Province Student-Liberal…a kid from Ontario!” he says, still amazed at this chance-opportunity more than three decades later. One might argue it wasn’t by chance at all.
The following summer, as a result of this victory, he and the other six regional presidents went to Ottawa to gain public sector experience. MacNaughton worked with Don Jamieson, then Cabinet Minister from Newfoundland, for the next six years and eventually with Industry Canada and Foreign Affairs. By the time he was 26-years-old, the Old Ridleian had travelled to some 55 countries and collected a wealth of invaluable knowledge. With this expertise in tow and about to be a first-time father, he deliberately “shifted gears” in the 1980s to business and transformed the public affairs industry through public-relations-and-consulting.
“The thing I learned more than anything else [at Ridley] was how to be a member of a team,” explained MacNaughton when pinpointing what skills have helped him the most throughout his career and life. “There is no “I” in “team” and that’s one of the foundations that I got here,” he continued. It would ultimately be his resilience, intellect and teamwork that led to his current appointment as Ambassador. Having worked on Prime Minster Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party campaign leading up to the 2015 Federal Election, MacNaughton was a strong choice for this principal role in Washington, D.C.
Given his true embodiment of what it means to be a Ridleian — both flourishing and actively making the world a better place — the school was elated to welcome Ambassador MacNaughton back to campus as the 2018 Alumni Distinguished Speaker for Graduate Prize Day. It was an honour he shared with one of his four daughters, Erin (MacNaughton) Sumner ’98, whom he proudly witnessed crossing that very stage to receive her diploma twenty years prior.
Celebrating his 50th class reunion in 2017 and becoming a ‘Golden Tiger’, MacNaughton remarks that the school has positively evolved in many ways since he graduated — having embraced co-education, becoming globally diverse, even more athletically competitive, and introducing the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme. To our internationally diverse student population, comprised of 54 nationalities, the Ambassador expressed that, “I think having that [internationally diverse] approach is really important for the school because there are other forces at work. We see it elsewhere, the kind of nativism, nationalism, isolationism, and I think Canada can set an important example.”
While taking to the lectern in front of the Class of 2018, Ambassador MacNaughton imparted that when he first graduated from Ridley, he had little understanding of, or application for, the school’s motto (Terar Dum Prosim: May I be Consumed in Service), but has grown to have a deep appreciation for it today. He urged the graduates to recognize that we are in an era of rapid progress and that they can truly have an impact. He poignantly illustrated this with personal examples, such as the near-eradication of Polio worldwide after he (like many) suffered from the disease as a child, and first meeting President Obama in the Oval Office less than half a century after the abolishment of discriminatory laws against African Americans.
Off stage, the Ambassador reinforced this powerful message by stating, “In my lifetime we have seen phenomenal changes, but these don’t just happen because they’re the natural course of history, they happen because people actually make a difference… you have to work hard at it and sometimes you might have set backs, but you have to be persistent, you have to be determined and you have to build teamwork to get it done, but you can do it.”
Ambassador MacNaughton’s inspiring words won’t soon be forgotten, instead they are instilled in the cohort of brilliant, globally-minded young adults who left the Marriott Gates on Saturday destined for both greatness and goodness.