100 years ago almost to the day, the decision to locate the University of Montreal on the west side of Mount Royal took shape.

In a work which will soon appear, from the pen of Micheline Cambron and Daniel Poitras1, we learn with astonishment that other sites were envisaged at the time: Maisonneuve Park, Jeanne-Mance Park, and even Sainte-Isle. Helene. In the latter hypothesis, it was a question of protecting future students from the distractions and reprehensible pleasures of the city center. It was before Parc Jean-Drapeau welcomed îleSoniq and Piknic Électronik…

Some might have believed that by locating its campus near the top of the mountain, with its emblematic tower overlooking the metropolis, the University of Montreal would also isolate itself from urban life, in a sort of elitist or chilly.

Rather the opposite happened. The work by Cambron and Poitras highlights the deep inscription of the University of Montreal in the social, political, economic and community fabric of Quebec, since its creation almost 150 years ago.

At the cost of a fierce struggle stretching over several decades, it acquired its autonomy from Laval University, whose religious straitjacket weighed heavily. With the contribution of the École Polytechnique and HEC, the University of Montreal has become the largest French-speaking university in America, one of the most important research centers in Canada and in the world, but also the place of development of students from all backgrounds and all horizons who have made modern Quebec, in French.

I had the pleasure of reading this historical portrait of the University of Montreal over the summer. To see the yellowed images of the Latin Quarter which then stretched between Old Montreal and Rue Sainte-Catherine. To learn more about these successive waves of studious, curious, party-loving, rowdy and often militant students.

To discover with wonder the passion of the teaching staff, who democratized higher education well before the Quiet Revolution and brought scientific research in French to the world stage from the beginning of the 20th century.

To take the full measure of the role that academics have played in all spheres of our collective life: health, politics, justice, culture, sports, basic sciences, social intervention or the understanding of our humanity.

Mine, the University of Montreal, has done this by offering access to world-class higher education, in French, to all communities, in all disciplines, for a century and a half. There is something to be proud of.

And pride takes hold. By chance in the university calendar, over the last two weeks I have experienced both the convocation ceremonies, which mark the end of studies, and the start of the school year for the new cohorts. Thirteen thousand students who are leaving us, their heads full of projects. Thirteen thousand more arriving, their heads full of hope.

In short, first the great book of history, then the true faces of those who will soon be in your lives. One in three doctors in Quebec is trained with us. You consult a specialized nurse, on the front line – she probably comes from UdeM. You have a dog or a cow that needs a veterinarian – you will see a UdeM graduate. You need glasses – one of our graduates will help you.

Are you buying a novel, a political essay, watching a documentary, or hearing a very talented Quebec pianist? Google the artist, journalist or author: there is a good chance that she went to UdeM.

So, you can imagine what all of this – the long history of UdeM, the convocation, the start of the school year – means to me and my colleagues. This is how university life is made. It goes around in a loop, in a recurring cycle that leads to introspection. Every year, we see the new faces of all these people who join the big UdeM family, and it gives meaning to our lives.

These faces carry diversity, but they are all the same, deep down. The tremendous energy of these people is the same as yesterday. The one who built Quebec, served its population, and made her genius travel beyond borders.