New College Alumnus Paul Byam (1978)

Paul Byam is a graduate of the University of Toronto (BA – Specialist International Relations – 1989), and was awarded an MA  and a PhD degree in History by  the University of Ottawa in 1992 and 1997, respectively.


Describe yourself in 50 words or less.

A patient man…when I’m not hungry.


Why did you choose New College and what were your expectations?

Although I had heard of the University of Toronto for many years, I knew precious little about its respective colleges. I took a look at how each one of them was described in the brochure, visually and in text, and simply selected New College because it seemed to promise an interdisciplinary experience or interdisciplinary and multicultural “immersion.” That, I thought, held promise for more rounded personal development at University. (Of course, Versa and Marriott threatened to “round me out” too, in the gastronomic way, but that’s another story.)


What was New College like when you came?

Ha! A veritable “madhouse”! It was “Frosh Week” after all and as I could not recall ever having heard the word “Frosh!” before for a freshman (…or a fresh woman….). I felt that the first person who walked up to me on that fateful day in September, uttering that mysterious word at the top of his voice must have been slugging back more than a few pints of ale that morning.

That said, I would like to underscore the fact that I was not simply new to the College, to the University, or even to the city of Toronto the Good. It was my first time in Canada and my first impressions overall were quite positive and remain relatively vivid ones to this day. It was an interesting place from the very evening of my arrival all the way through to my graduation day in 1989.


Was there anyone in particular at New College (staff, student, of faculty) who had a strong influence on your life or made a lasting impression on you?

I would have to list quite a number of people in order to answer this question honestly and fairly, and I certainly wouldn’t wish to leave anyone out. I spent a long time interacting with fellow students, staff and faculty, in several fora: on New College Council; on the NCSC; as editor of the Yearbook; as part of the extended security and caretaking staff (a porter); as an honorary member of “Couch House” (a very active bunch of Non-Rez students who struck camp each day in the Wetmore Lobby); and in several ad hoc groupings.  Many people brought a lot of their own personal dynamism to the table on each occasion and I did my best to use these interactions as opportunities for learning.

In summary, I would compliment the staff at the Registrar’s Office, the Principal’s Office and the Deans’ Offices for their helpfulness and availability throughout my long sojourn at New. I would also make special mention of all those good people who were on New College Council and on the Student Council with me, who afforded me different perspectives on facing and resolving life’s many challenges.


How did your academic and social experience at the University/College prepare you for life and your career?

I studied International Relations at the University and eventually joined my country’s foreign service – a “hand-in-glove” situation, one might say.

As far as preparing me for “life”, however, I would say that it is really our homes (families), and our activities with our churches, sports teams, community groups, and earlier education that prepare us. The basic values of our societies get instilled in us at an early age. I had already joined the working world before coming to University and so I would say that University helps sharpen the focus, and certainly gives us a much needed “polishing over” for moving on to greater things.


What was important to you then – what is important to you now?

I believe that the same things that were important to me before coming to New College have remained important to me now. They are the things I feel duty-bound to pass on to my children and grandchildren as guiding principles: the “tangible intangibles” of having due respect for others; maintaining your own self-respect without abandoning humility; being honest and disciplined; having integrity in your dealings with others; being a good neighbour, a loyal friend, a faithful spouse, a loving and understanding parent. These are the values that I have acquired from my family and closest friends and they are the ones that I work hard to pass on to others. I can only hope that I will be successful in the effort as I have big shoes to fill in this regard. (But with huge feet like mine, I’m half-way there from the get-go! Ha!)


Do you have any final comments?

This year marks not only 50 years of New College. It also marks the 50th Anniversary of Independence for Trinidad and Tobago (my country), Jamaica, and a few other countries. I would like to see us get together as alumni and recognise this in a meaningful way, given the importance of networking at the university level and the high profile that the University of Toronto enjoys internationally. I have paid many a visit to New College since graduating back in 1989 but when I visited the College this past summer, I felt the need for an additional input from the alumni to help preserve and extend some the traditions and history of the College that extend beyond its national frontiers.

Thank you for this unique opportunity to lend my voice to the chorus of past students who are congratulating the College on its 50th Anniversary. It was a privilege to have passed through its distinguished halls on any given day.