Dear Faculty, Students and Staff,

As I grew up in Toronto, every year, the final weeks of August were marked by the Canadian National Exhibition, a three-week extravaganza of rides, shows and tooth-decaying delights that ended on Labour Day (translation for non-Canadians: Labor Day). As kids, we would dare each other onto progressively bigger, more death-defying roller coasters, and fight with our parents to stay at “the Ex” until long after dark, when the grounds became a neon-lit wonderland and the Ferris wheel seemed to lift us straight into the August stars.

If the start of the fair signaled that summer was drawing to a close, the Canadian International Air Show, which was mounted on the last three days of the Ex, made that reality undeniable. Over the course of Labor Day weekend, vintage biplanes, gliders and acrobatic jets soared and somersaulted over Lake Ontario to thundering, appreciative applause. But to the kids, the first sonic boom of the ultra-fast aircraft (which could be heard throughout the city) sounded more like a death knell. As soon as those planes took flight, we knew that it was time to go back to school.

To me, this story is more than a remembrance of a youth misspent. It is a reminder that my view of Labor Day — historically the time when American and Canadian students returned to class — has almost completely reversed.

One of the truly wonderful things about being part of an academic community like ours is the profound and almost palpable sense of renewal that takes hold at the beginning of a new semester. This is particularly true in September, when the start of the academic year aligns with the changing season (which usually does not include earthquakes or hurricanes). The humidity breaks, a slight chill creeps into the morning air, and our campuses hum with excitement as we welcome a new group of students into our community. A year of promising discoveries stretches out before us.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched our student teams take the fields again. I’ve seen our faculty returning to their offices and labs with the glow of a summer break. I’ve watched parents straining to carry overstuffed boxes into their children’s dorm rooms. And I’ve witnessed our staff preparing our buildings, libraries, dining halls and campus landscapes for the start of school with characteristic poise and good humor.

That dreaded sonic boom has, thankfully, been replaced by these joyful signs that our year has begun.

Welcome back. It’s going to be a wonderful year.

Warm regards,

Ronald J. Daniels