One of Canada’s most prestigious honours, the Symons Medal, named for Professor Thomas H.B. Symons, founding president of Trent University, recognizes an individual who has made exceptional contributions to Canadian life.
Professor Symons was a long-time member and supporter of the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown, PEI, where the award is presented annually. This year, the recipient is writer, historian, and former politician Michael Ignatieff.
In delivering his lecture at the medal presentation, Ignatieff paid homage to the late Prof. Symons and his accomplishments with Trent University, referencing his own experience as a university president and the relentless pursuit of hope that comes with leading a higher learning institution.
“I have some idea of what it must have taken for him to have created Trent University from nothing and to have led it for more than a decade,” he said. “Prof. Symons could not have done it if he hadn’t had hope.”
In his lecture, Ignatieff also acknowledged Dr. Ralph Heintzman, who taught history at Trent University, and expressed his admiration for him as a public servant, writer, and thinker. Professor Heintzman also has a connection to Prof. Symons, having led the editorial direction of Tom Symons: A Canadian Life, a collection of narratives about Prof. Symons’ professional life, many of which are linked to his creation and advancement of Trent University.
As the 23rd recipient of the honour, Ignatieff is the author of eighteen books, holds honorary degrees from fourteen universities, and is a recipient of the Order of Canada. Between 2016 and 2021, he was rector and president of Central European University (CEU) in Budapest and Vienna, and currently teaches history at CEU in Vienna.
Previous recipients of the award include Dr. David Suzuki, who also received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Trent in 1981. Last year’s Symons medal recipient, Shelagh Rogers, was the Trent Jack Matthews Fellow in 2014 and a close colleague and friend of Trent’s former Chancellor, Peter Gzowski.