Canada’s 2020 Freshers

The OCST send-off for the cohort of new Canadian students at Oxford and Cambridge

The Oxford and Cambridge Society of Toronto invited our Vice President, Akaash Maharaj, to be part of their virtual send-off event for Canadian Freshers.  His remarks are below.

I was very flattered when the Oxford and Cambridge Society of Toronto invited me to speak to you, the 2020 cohort of Canadian Freshers.

Those feelings were only slightly blunted when the Society explained that they were hoping to offer you the perspective of a “seasoned graduate”, the implication being that I have been well and truly marinated by the years that have passed since I was myself a student at Oxford.

I can not deny that I am more seasoned than fresh.

I read Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Teddy Hall.  PPE is, infamously, the degree most associated with people who think they should be running the world, but whose careers tend to prove that there is no limit to the human capacity for self-deception.

The foremost emotion I feel in being with you today is a sense of happy envy of the adventures you are all about to begin.

You will certainly be matriculating at an unusual moment in history.  But Oxford and Cambridge carried on through the Black Death of 1347 and the Great Plague of 1665.  The Pandemic of 2020 will be comparatively trivial, and will likely involve fewer people being burned at the stake.

For me, studying at Oxford completely changed the trajectory of my life.  It opened up new possibilities that I had previously only glimpsed as a distant observer.

Today, I serve as head of the Mosaic Institute, which advances pluralism in societies and peace amongst nations.  It operates through Track Two Diplomacy, and brings together people, communities, and states, to foster mutual understanding and to resolve conflicts.

In every mission I have ever undertaken, I have found myself tripping over other Oxonians: in desperate conflict zones and in the deep ease of diplomatic institutions; in razed villages and in glittering metropolises; on the barricades and in palaces.

Studying at Oxford helped all of us believe that the world could be a more humane and more just place.  It imparted to us a sense of responsibility to advance that dream.  And it gave us the most extraordinary opportunities to work towards making that dream a reality.

I have three observations to offer you, as you start your own journeys at Oxford and Cambridge.

The first is that you will be immersed in an ocean of riches.  The university buildings form part of the built heritage of the human race.  The tuition is intensely intimate.  The extracurricular activities are a marvel of diversity and depth.  And I am embarrassed by how quickly I took it all for granted.

You should savour the moments.  This density of opportunity will almost certainly never come your way again.

The second is that Britain can be a lonely place, especially if you are someone like me, who has had to work to overcome natural shyness.  The English, in particular, tend to be sceptical of easy friendliness, seeing it as glib and superficial.  They are often cutting, and sometimes cruel to one another.

But it is worth the effort to pierce their barriers, because the friendships you make with them will be all the deeper for it.

The third, is that you should do everything you can to maintain those friendships after university.  The true wealth of Oxford and Cambridge lie neither in their architecture nor indeed in their classes, but instead, in the fact that they draw together truly exceptional people, including yourselves.

I have forgotten almost everything I was taught at Oxford, but I remember almost everything I learned, because that came from the conversations, the experiences, and the dreams I nurtured with my peers.

The ties that will bind you together run deeper than the foundations of the modern world.  They have proven more enduring than the countless kingdoms, countries, and empires that have risen and fallen away during the nearly 1000 years since our universities first took root.

You will graduate into a world where societies everywhere are tearing themselves apart over questions of whom they recognise as friends and whom they reject as strangers.

In that context, the greatest gift Oxford gave to me is the knowledge that I am part of a fellowship that reaches across time and around the globe.  It includes people who speak different languages, profess different faiths, come from different ethnic groups, abide in different nations, and have been on opposite sides of history and warfare.

Yet, as Oxonians, we understand that there are no strangers amongst us: only friends we have yet to meet.

I genuinely envy the journey you are all about to begin.  I wish you well in adding to the stories of Oxford and Cambridge, and in adding Oxford and Cambridge to the stories of your lives.

Akaash Maharaj (St Edmund Hall) was the first overseas student elected President of the Oxford University Student Union.  He is Chief Executive Officer of the Mosaic Institute, which advances pluralism in societies and peace between nations. His personal web site is www.maharaj.org.

Human Mobility and COVID-19

The second of the North American Three Capitals Webinars

The second instalment of our Three Capitals Webinars series examined how physical mobility has affected the spread of coronavirus, and what public policy measures have succeeded and failed to contain the pandemic.

Our guest speaker, Dr Moritz Kraemer, joined us directly from Oxford. He is attached to both the University’s Department of Zoology and the Oxford Martin Programme on Pandemic Genomics.

This webinar series is joint project of the Oxford University societies in Mexico City, Ottawa, and Washington DC. This event was moderated by our colleagues in Mexico.

The struggle against coronavirus is one that involves the peoples of every country, and we were delighted to welcome audience members from across the world.

Oxford Climate Alumni Network

Launch of a new Oxonian network on climate change

The new Oxford Climate Alumni Network (OxCAN) will launch online, on 08 September 2020.  OxCAN is a collaborative initiative by the Oxford Climate Society, Oxford alumni, the Oxford Environmental Change Institute, and academics across University departments.

Date: Tuesday, 08 September 2020
Time: 12h00 EDT (16h00 UTC)
Registration: At Eventbrite

The new network will connect climate-concerned alumni to one another, to the latest research, and to students and initiatives working on climate at the University.

The network organisers have  also created a 10-minute consultation to hear directly from Oxonians about our climate-related interests and experiences.

Webinar on Oxford and Coronavirus

A Three Capitals webinar on Oxford’s role in tracking and combatting the pandemic

We are very pleased to be continuing our Three Capitals Webinars series with our colleagues at the Oxford University Societies in Mexico City and Washington DC.

Our second webinar in our series will address the most pressing of current events: the work at Oxford to track the spread of coronavirus and to develop a vaccine against the disease.

We will feature Dr Moritz Kraemer, a Research Fellow in Oxford’s Department of Zoology and an Associate of the Oxford Martin Programme on Pandemic Genomics.

Date: Thursday, 27 August 2020
Time: 10h00 Ottawa (09h00 Mexico City, 10h00 Washington DC)
Registration: At Zoom Webinars

The race against the pandemic has become the single most urgent and most globally engaging struggle of our times. Oxford’s international reach and the depth of its research capacity have placed our University in the vanguard of that race. Dr Kraemer’s talk promises to be an absorbing one.

As always, registration is free, but places are limited, and will be allocated first-come-first-served.

The Oxford College Arms

The first of the North American Three Capitals Webinars

Our inaugural collaboration with our colleagues at the Oxford University Societies in Mexico City and Washington DC was a great success, attracting more than one-hundred Oxonians from across North America.

Dr John Tepper Marlin entertained us with stories of how the College coats of arms came into being, and what their symbols tells us about their times and character.

This was the first instalment of our new series, the Three Capitals Webinars. The Oxford University Societies in each of the North American capitals will take it in turn to host an online event. We hope our series will strengthen the bonds of friendship between Oxonians on this side of the Atlantic, and enable us to draw on the depth of knowledge and insights of our peers across our continent.

Our next Three Capitals Webinar will be hosted by Mexico City, on Thursday 20 August 2020, and will discuss Oxford’s role in tracking the spread of coronavirus and developing a vaccine against the disease.

Three Capitals Webinars

Joint events between the Oxford University Societies in Ottawa, Mexico City, and Washington DC

We are delighted to be joining forces with our friends at the Oxford University Societies in Mexico City and Washington DC, to organise a series of online webinars for Oxonians across North America.

Our first webinar will be a talk on the history of the coats of arms of Oxford’s Colleges, led by Dr John Tepper Marlin (Trinity College), author of Oxford College Arms: Intriguing Stories Behind Oxford’s Shields.

His book reveals how, for the past seven hundred years, the Colleges’ heraldic bearings have told the intriguing and irreverent story of the University, the United Kingdom, and the arc of history itself.

Date: Thursday, 20 August 2020
Time: 18h00 Ottawa (17h00 Mexico City, 18h00 Washington DC)
Registration: At Zoom Webinars

This is only the first in a series of online events, to be hosted jointly by the Oxford University Societies in the three North American national capitals.

Registration is free, but places are limited, and will be allocated first-come-first-served.

Brexit and the Bonds of Oxford

The ties that bind Oxonians together run deeper than the foundations of the modern world.

We are very pleased that QUAD, the University’s official alumni magazine, has published an article by our Vice President Akaash Maharaj.  We have reproduced his text below.

This summer, Britain’s High Commissioner to Canada generously — if somewhat recklessly — threw open the doors of her official residence, to once again host the annual Oxford University Society (OUS) Ottawa garden party.

A year earlier, our Society’s members had knocked back an improbable volume of Pimms, enough to stagger the diplomatic staff, but clearly not enough to dissuade Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque from inviting us back. However, even her indulgence had its limits: she had clearly reached her tolerance for unsolicited comments on Brexit.

I can empathise with her sentiments. More than two-hundred people spilled about the gardens, and the subject of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union seemed to be on every lip.

For Canada’s Oxonians, Brexit has been fantastically entertaining political theatre. I will refrain from offering any assessment on whether we have viewed it as high drama or low comedy.

Brexit is a sharp reminder that the questions many of us anguished over in our student tutorials remain as intractable as ever outside academia: the clash of reason and passion in electoral politics; the nature of national identity in a globalised world; the debate over whom we recognise as friends and whom we regard as strangers.

In this context, the OUS Ottawa garden party was a remarkable gathering.

The guests were drawn from every corner of the globe. Between us, we speak different languages, profess different faiths, and come from different ethnic communities. Nevertheless, we were all drawn together by our common affection for our University, and our common sense of identity as its graduates.

The ties that bind us together run deeper than the foundations of the modern world. They have proven more enduring than the countless kingdoms, countries, and empires that have risen and fallen away during the 829 years since Emo of Friesland became Oxford’s earliest-known international student.

The citizens of the United Kingdom have the unqualified right to decide their country’s place in the community of nations and their posture towards other peoples. But I can not help but feel regret, that between Brexit and the Home Office hostile environment policy, fewer international students will become part of Oxford’s story, and in turn, Oxford will become less a part of the world’s story.

This year’s OUS Ottawa garden party unfolded in a beautiful setting and under uncharacteristically glorious skies. But most important of all, it gave us a chance to renew our bond as Oxonians, and to celebrate the rare gift it has given us all: a sense that there are no strangers amongst us, only friends we have yet to meet.

Akaash Maharaj (St Edmund Hall) was the first overseas student elected President of the Oxford University Student Union.  He is Chief Executive Officer of the Mosaic Institute, which advances pluralism in societies and peace between nations. His personal web site is www.maharaj.org.

Mallets and Arches

Seeing out the summer with croquet

We ended our summer season with our annual croquet tournament, once again kindly hosted by our members Mike and Maria Stott at their home at Crystal Bay.

The setting was idyllic, the weather perfect, and the Ottawa River provided an uncharacteristically calming backdrop.

“Alice thought she had never seen such a curious croquet-ground in her life; it was all ridges and furrows; the balls were live hedgehogs, the mallets live flamingoes, and the soldiers had to double themselves up and to stand on their hands and feet, to make the arches.”
Lewis Carroll, Christ Church 1849

As always, the croquet itself was played with far more verve and style than talent or skill.

It was, above all, a lovely afternoon of committed relaxation and fellowship, and we were especially delighted to welcome new and prospective members.

Croquet (Without Flamingoes)

Our croquet tournament is more about enthusiasm than skill.

Our annual croquet tournament and garden party is the final event of our summer season. It is a relaxed gathering, with little fuss and less croqueting skill.  As Alice said in Wonderland, “they don’t seem to have any rules in particular; at least, if there are, nobody attends to them.”  Guests and all friends of Oxford are welcome.

Date: Thursday, 05 September 2018 (rain or shine)
Time: 17h00 to 19h30 (croquet begins at 17h45)
Place: 15 Nesbitt Street, Ottawa
Directions: Google Maps; MapQuest; Bing Maps

We thank Mike and Maria Stott, who have once again opened their home as the venue for our event.

We will provide sandwiches and light refreshments.

The cost of the event is $20.00 per person.  Cheques should be made payable to “Oxford Society, Ottawa” and mailed in advance to our Treasurer Michael Stott (15 Nesbitt St, Ottawa ON K2H 8C4).  Alternatively, e-transfers can be arranged with our Secretary Harry Corrin (h.corrin@rogers.com).

 

Overflowing Gardens

Our largest-ever event, under glorious skies

Our 2019 Garden Party unfolded at the British High Commission under gloriously sunny skies, and even warmer company.

In addition to our own members, we were delighted to welcome alumni from twenty-six additional British universities.  With more than two-hundred guests, this easily surpassed last year’s Garden Party to become our largest-ever event.

In addressing the gathering, our President, David Sacks, described Oxford’s extraordinary ascendancy in British public life, and questioned whether the effects have been entirely happy.

Once again, we thank High Commissioner Susan Jane le Jeune d’Allegeershecque and her staff for their hospitality in opening Earnscliffe’s gardens to us, and making it possible for so many of us to come together.