In a speech peppered with humour and contemplation during the fourth Spring Convocation ceremony at York University, CBC radio personality Matt Galloway offered graduands a simple piece of advice: to listen.
The York alum (BA '94) received an honorary doctor of laws during the June 19 convocation that celebrated students in York's Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design.
A staple voice at the CBC for more than 10 years, Galloway is the host of CBC Radio One’s "Metro Morning" in Toronto and co-host of "Podcast Playlist." One of Canada’s most respected radio personalities, he began his career as music director for CHRY-FM at York.
Galloway shared with guests that he followed in his mother's footsteps when he came to York. He also noted that some things had changed drastically since his time on campus (like his shoulder-length dreadlocks), and some things had stayed the same (like the promise of a subway).
But he turned to a more serious tone when he credited York for his job – "the best job in radio in this entire country."
He shared with guests that he learned how to talk on the radio here, on CHRY, and also met the woman who would eventually become his wife, through the program he hosted on campus.
"And I learned what I think is the most important thing for my job," he said. "You might have guessed it, I like to talk. And I like to say that I talk for a living, but that’s not really true. In the best case scenario, I listen for a living."
Now, as a radio personality, he conducts about 11 interviews every day and talks to people from all walks of life – from prime ministers to community leaders and everyone in between.
"It’s my job to ask questions, sometimes really difficult questions," he said, "but, really, it’s important that I listen."
Listening is something he has to be mindful of, he said, but when he does it, amazing things happen.
He shared a story about an interview he did with a young woman a few years ago – an incredibly sad story. The day before, her brother had been shot while with his friends, who saw the shooting, took him to the hospital, dropped him at the doorstep and drove away. They didn't come forward to say who the shooter was. The woman had the bravery to call them out and tell her story through tears.
"It was an extraordinary conversation, a heartbreaking interview," said Galloway, "and those of us in the studio just held our breath while she talked. I had a million questions I wanted to ask her, but the most important thing in that moment was to just to close my mouth and let her talk."
Later that day, Galloway heard from a big bank executive who had been listening to the show while making his tea. He became so engrossed in the story that he stopped in his tracks while carrying a kettle and was immobilized by the story he was hearing.
Suddenly he felt the handle of the kettle burning his hands. He dropped it and the kettle smashed onto the floor, said Galloway.
"He said, in that moment, while his hand was burning, it felt like the entire city stopped moving as she told that story," said Galloway. "And that to me, in many ways, captured the power of listening – that you could talk, or you could just listen."
Galloway reminded grads and their guests that we live in a culture where it's very easy to talk, and we have so many tools to have our voices heard. He urged them to use those tools to make their voices heard.
"But I also hope that you use those tools to listen," he said.
What's even more important is to listen – to those around you and to yourself.
He said he would have never ended up in his job without someone taking the chance to listen to him, and without listening to his own inner voice telling him to go for it.
"You're going to get a lot of advice ... about what you should do and how you should lead your life.... My request to you, as you get set for that next chapter, is to be an active listener, a vigorous listener, somebody who leans forward and wants to hear what other people are saying," said Galloway. "It will change your life, but it will change how you see the lives of other people as well."