The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, PC, CC, CMM, COM, CD, is the Chancellor of United College, formerly St. Paul’s University College, in Waterloo, Ontario, but is more well known to most Canadians as our 27th Governor General and Commander-in-Chief, who represented the country from 2005 to 2010. Her vice-regal motto was “Breaking Down Solitudes,” a fitting theme for her life as an academic, journalist, leader and public servant.
Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean moved to Quebec as a refugee at the age of 11 when Canada granted her parents political asylum. Growing up in Montreal, she proved an exceptional student and studied languages – she is fluent in at least five – and literature in Canada, Italy and France, completing a Master of Arts in comparative literature. One of her first careers was in journalism, where she reported, anchored and produced for both Radio-Canada and the CBC. She was the first Black anchor on Quebec television. She also collaborated with her husband on award-winning documentary films about Quebec and Caribbean societies.
As the first Caribbean-born Canadian to serve as Governor General and one of the youngest to fill the role, Jean was seen as a representative of Canada’s 21st century society. Since the end of her term at Rideau Hall in 2010, Jean has continued to serve at home and internationally. After a massive earthquake devastated her birthplace in 2010, killing more than 200,000 people, she was named UNESCO special envoy to Haiti. She has also held the roles of Chancellor of the University of Ottawa and Secretary-General of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie before being named Chancellor of United College in Waterloo, Ontario, and Chancellor of African Development University in Niger.
Jean is a social activist who has been involved in addressing domestic violence and supporting women’s shelters since her student days in Quebec’s women’s movement. This work was just one of the causes she championed as Governor General. Her support of gender equality, Indigenous Canadian and youth causes is part of that legacy, which is continued through the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, addressing community development challenges by supporting vulnerable young people in Canada using arts, cultural and civic projects to enact social change. Notable initiatives of the Foundation include the Power of the Arts National Forum and the National Black Canadians Summit, the latter held most recently in Halifax in July 2022.
Jean has been honoured around the world. She has been named to the Order of Canada as well as France’s Legion of Honour; the national orders of Armenia, Benin, Mali and Niger; the Order of Valour of Cameroon; and the Ordre des Chevaliers de la Pléiade. She may find herself at home in many cities around the world, having been named an honorary citizen of communities from Quebec to Côte d’Ivoire. Awards are numerous, honouring her work in language studies, human rights, journalism, film, and public life, including the 2009 United Nations Development Fund for Women Canada Award and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. She holds honorary doctorates from more than 20 universities around the world.
Jean and her husband, French-born filmmaker Jean-Daniel Lafond, have one daughter, Marie-Eden.
The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean will convocate on Monday, May 15, at 2:30 p.m.