On Wednesday, November 10, the University of Toronto awarded Toronto native Dorothy Shoichet an honourary doctor of laws degree in recognition of her admirable business leadership and tireless volunteer efforts, particularly in the areas of education and the arts.
“I am thrilled that my university has chosen to honour Dorothy Shoichet with an honourary degree,” expressed Dr. Charles Tator, professor of neuroscience at the University of Toronto, founder of the ThinkFirst Foundation, and friend of the Shoichet family, in his introductory speech. “She is a living metaphor for the finest qualities that the University of Toronto strives to instil in its graduates; a quest for lifelong education; giving your best effort for public service; and fostering a love for the arts and culture.”
Shoichet earned a political science and economics degree from the University of Illinois before entering the business world as co-manager of the Oxford Picture Frame Company. She helped develop the company into Canada’s largest picture frame moulding manufacturer while simultaneously raising three children. At the same time, she advanced her own formal education in art and art history, writing, and opera.
In an interview with The Varsity, Dorothy Shoichet’s passion for education and the arts shone through.
Shoichet provided inspirational words of wisdom for recent graduates, current students, and greater Torontonians alike. “I believe that peace will come to the world only through education and the arts because the arts is a civilizing part of life and education is a rounding part of life,” she explained, with her three-year-old grandson’s laughter echoing in the background. “It opens up your mind!”
This credence is certainly evident in how Shoichet lives her life. Her volunteer efforts have included serving as director of Dare Arts, a program that aims to provide at-risk children with access to the arts. Additionally, she has served as both Vice President of the World ORT Union and President of the Canadian Women’s ORT, one of the world’s largest non-governmental education and training organizations. As well, Shoichet has always been an avid supporter of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Canadian Opera Company, the Toronto Arts Council, the Art Gallery of Ontario, University of Toronto, Mount Sinai Hospital, and Baycrest, among many others.
Shoichet is also a steadfast voluntary figure in the Toronto Jewish community, promoting the arts locally and in Israel; she is a supporter of the Kolel, the Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning, Habimah Theatre, and the Muki Baum Organization for Children with handicaps, and served as volunteer chancellor at the Koffler Centre of the Arts for ten years.
“The arts are so important because it triggers our imagination,” said Shoichet. She went on to describe the importance of the emotions triggered when one hears a beautiful piece of music or sees an exquisite theatre production. According to her, it is experiences such as these that round out a person’s life.
Shoichet’s activism stretches further. “I’m a feminist, I think I was since the moment I was born,” she stated with pride.
She described the iconic 1978 Virginia Slims magazine advertisement which featured a beautiful woman smoking a long cigarette and the slogan, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.” She expressed that, while there have been improvements in the status of women over her lifetime, there are still large steps to be taken. According to Shoichet, “We haven’t come such a long way, baby.”
Shoichet voiced her support for the feminist movement and her concern that it has often been misinterpreted. “It’s only that women should be treated equal to men. Not better, not worse, simply equal.”
In Dr. Tator’s address, he distinguished Shoichet as an excellent choice for an honorary degree, and one whose achievements will thrill and inspire the university’s graduating class. He said that the stated mission of the Koffler Centre is also her mantra: “to bring people together through arts and culture to create a more civil and global society.”
Shoichet’s commitment to the fundamentals of education and the arts is both uplifting and moving. “The two together can revolutionize the world. I believe that passionately,” she said, “We haven’t seen it happen yet, but there are small pockets developing, and it’s pretty exciting to see.”