Department of Chemistry, University of Toronto
U of T Chemistry News

Unexpected Opportunities: Mark Lautens

November 24, 2017

Professor Mark Lautens was invested into the Order of Canada in November, 2015. He was recently asked to share his experience since being named an Officer.

It goes without saying that the Order of Canada is a singular honour and receiving it brings not only joy but also the feeling that you should continue to do your best to uphold the motto DESIDERANTES MELIOREM PATRIAM (They desire a better country). Much of the time, you wear your snowflake [pin] and go unnoticed, but occasionally someone congratulates you for no apparent reason and then points at the pin! It is a wonderful feeling that often leads to a short conversation about the nature of your contribution—which is not easy when you are a chemist.

An entirely unexpected bonus to receiving the Order came in the form of an invitation to preside over citizenship ceremonies. With some trepidation, I agreed and attended my first ceremony with a bona fide judge leading the event. I was intrigued by her story of her arrival in Canada and subsequent journey that led her to her place on the podium.

A week later, I donned a judge’s robe, carefully positioned my Order of Canada insignia and walked to the lead chair as presiding officer. As I faced 125 smiling people coming from more than 30 different countries, I fed off their joy and told my own story that led me from growing up in Hamilton, raised by a single mother without a high school education, to my current position as a professor at the University of Toronto. I mention that I don't always see so many smiles when I am teaching organic chemistry so it is a particular pleasure to preside over their event.

I often see tears in some eyes, knowing they have reached the end of one journey and the start of another — as Canadians. The photos and discussions with my fellow citizens at the end of each ceremony have special significance as I learn more about their dreams and aspirations.