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Masai Ujiri tells graduates about the value of respect

Toronto Raptors president received honorary doctorate at convocation
By: Will Sloan
June 13, 2017
Masai Ujiri congratulating grads

Photo: Masai Ujiri, president of the Toronto Raptors, received an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Community Services. Photo by Richard Lautens/The Toronto Star.

It’s a long journey from rural Nigeria to the Ryerson campus. On June 8, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri received an honorary doctorate at the Faculty of Community Services’ convocation, and used the occasion to reflect on his remarkable path.

“When I drive home, I pinch myself,” said Ujiri in a speech. “I pinch myself and I say, ‘Wow. How did I end up here? Why was I chosen?’ I always wonder why I was chosen. I was a little boy in northern Nigeria, and now I’m wearing this.

“All of you were chosen,” he continued. “Everybody in this world is special. Every single one of you is special. And we must find it. We all stand for something … and everybody has a purpose in this world.”

For Ujiri, that purpose was becoming an athlete, businessman and philanthropist. A professional basketball player in Europe before working his way up the ranks as a scout for the NBA, Ujiri has become the only non-American to be named NBA Executive of the Year, and is also director of the NBA’s external,Basketball Without Borders Africa program.

Prefacing his speech, Ujiri said, “I’m going back to the basics—to the real basics—because I think that’s what Ryerson is about. And what captivates me the most is the diversity. It’s unbelievable. And where the world is going today, this is what we need in this world: for all of us to live with each other, to work with each other, and to respect each other.”

“Respect” was the theme that recurred most in Ujiri’s speech. “Learn to respect people that you meet,” he said. “Learn to respect people that you are going to work with. Learn to respect families; learn to respect other cultures; learn to respect people from other places; and learn to respect where you’re from. It’s so important in this day and age, and it’s what we’re lacking. It’s why you see problems everywhere.

“We all love to talk, but sometimes we don’t want to listen. Listen to other people. Listen to what they have to say. It’s very important you listen to people—it goes a long way. And when you listen, look into the eyes of people you have listened to.”

Reflecting on the many places he has lived, Ujiri said that being open to different people has broadened his education.

“In my journey, my education has been meeting people in different places around the world. And everywhere I’ve lived and everywhere I’ve been has held so much meaning to me. And that’s why when I look at this campus, and when I walked down that line, and saw all the youth, and the diversity—people from different places—it gives me so much joy.

“A young boy that grew up in northern Nigeria, where there are a lot of issues—a lot of problems. And guess what? I wouldn’t change anything. I would grow up in the same place. I would grow up around Muslim people; I would grow up around Christian people; I would grow up around northern Nigerian people; I would grow up in Africa again.”