Ten years ago I landed in Toronto with my wife and an 11 months old son. I left my job as a staff lawyer at the Israeli Antitrust Authority and arrived to Toronto to become a student again at UofT’s Faculty of Law. A couple of days later I had a meeting with Prof. Brian Langille: now my colleague, then the Associate Dean, Graduate Student. The meeting was part of a routine procedure for all incoming graduate students, but nonetheless, it was a sign for a great start. Not that I had never had meetings with professors in my earlier studies, but never had the head of the program initiated them upon my arrival, so I had a feeling that this was going to be a different experience.
And it was. I met Brian, we talked about my background and what I was planning to study during my SJD studies, discussed potential supervisors, and at least three times he mentioned how excited he and the Faculty were that I was coming and would be part of the program.
Excited. I vividly remember the word because it puzzled me. On the one hand I was really flattered, but on the other it struck me as particularly odd. Why would a professor at a top law school, and even better, the faculty itself, be excited that I was coming? I had previously been a student at a very good law school, but no one was excited about that, after all, I was just a student. That is, you would expect the CEO of a company like Apple to say that he’s “excited” when he reveals a new product, but if he told you that he’s excited whenever the product comes out of the assembly line you would naturally be suspicious about the credibility of the statement. And my earlier experience was more like a student on the assembly line, not so much like the latest gadget. So I was suspiciously flattered, and to avoid future disappointment, I rationalized that “excited” in that context probably didn’t carry its ordinary English dictionary meaning (i.e. very enthusiastic and eager), but more likely was just a way to say politely “welcome” in the aggrandized North-Americanish dialect.
I was wrong. I quickly learned that I wasn’t just another student on the assembly line, and that Brian and the Faculty actually did speak English, not North-Americanish. During the subsequent months and years I discovered that the Faculty was really interested in me, in my thoughts, and in my ideas. I realized that my role wasn’t just to absorb and learn, but to become an equal participant in an ongoing intellectual enterprise.
Brian was excited then (as I’m sure he’s excited now and as are the rest of us), because every year, in the last days of August and early September, as the flow of new and old students begins to trickle, a sense of excitement begins to grow. As the weather becomes slightly cooler and one can spot a few leaves that begin to change their colour, the enthusiastic and eager talented students who come here to start or continue new chapters in their lives open new ones in ours. We know that for the next months and years, they will not only learn from us, but also teach us, and challenge us and make us think harder and deeper, and force us to be better researchers and teachers. And that makes us excited.
So welcome to all new and returning students. May your time at UofT will be as great as mine.