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Different languages shouldn’t create barriers

Max Lemay

Max Lemay addressed students in assembly on Sept. 27.

Upper Canada College student Max Lemay inspired the boys sitting in Laidlaw Hall for assembly on the morning of Jan. 27 with a speech asking for “a more perfect union” to kick off the school’s International Languages Week.

Perhaps you’ll feel the same way after reading what Lemay had to say:

“All right guys, let’s face it, my presence on this stage is very unlikely. Mostly because of my strong French accent, but also because of my personal background. I grew up in a small French town in Quebec and learned my English at high school, pretty much the same way some of you guys learn French here: by having classes once in a while.

“I was supposed to follow the usual path that all other kids of my age do. Go to local high school, CEGEP and then university. But as I grew up, I realized that I could do better than that. I could challenge myself a little more. This is when I started to look at other possibilities. My hockey ‘career’ led me here to Upper Canada College. It goes without saying that I fell in love with this amazing learning institution. But how could I get in? This school is the best school in the country. How could a guy like me, who only had a few English classes every once in a while, possibly compete with those native English speakers?

“And here I am today, a few years and a lot of sacrifices later, standing before you delivering this speech about a ‘more perfect union.’

“My job by standing here on a sleepy Monday morning is to hopefully make this great school a more enjoyable home for all of us. Nobody asked me to come up and deliver this speech today to introduce International Languages Week, but I did it anyways because I think there is an issue that we can all work on — an issue of tolerance and comprehension.

“For example, I have a French mate that asked a question in front of a 20-person class. The teacher looked at him straight in the eyes and jokingly, I guess, said: ‘In English, please.’

“If you picture yourself in that kid’s shoes while everybody is laughing, you’ll know that at that very moment that glib remark shattered a 17-year-old’s self-confidence. What do you think will go through his mind next time he doesn’t understand something? Maybe his English wasn’t good for that question, but surely there are more delicate ways of pointing that out.

“Digging back in history, there has always been a severe competition between French and English people. At a time when tyranny ruled the world and both nations saw their convictions and ideas threatened, they united and defeated a common enemy during World War One and later during World War Two. They shared the vision of death together. They shared the worst moments of humanity together. So why can’t we share success and education together?

“My point is that we are all here for the same reasons, regardless of our background, colour or faith. We are all here to learn, have a good time and eventually go to university. We all have the same convictions. So let’s pursue our journey to success together.

“Language is only a medium by which we share our message, not the message itself. A different language should not divide us. It should make us more powerful.

“It’s not about Frenchies. It’s not about Asians. It’s not about day boys or boarders. It’s about us because, as the song goes, we cannot walk alone.

“Merci. Gracias. Shie chen. Thank you.”