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Playing for change

Music student sole N.L. delegate at international youth institute

Student Life

By Marcia Porter

Trumpet performance and musicology student Michael O’Keefe is more than comfortable in front of any audience, on any stage.

Which is a good thing, because next week he’ll be on a pretty big one.

Mr. O’Keefe is one of 20 university students — 10 Canadians and 10 Americans — who’ll be in Ottawa and Quebec City for the Fulbright Canada Youth Institute on Canada in the World from Sept. 23-30.

It’s a Canada 150 initiative that seeks to build mutual understanding between Canada and the United States through lectures, cultural experiences, workshops, discussions and networking among students, diplomats and leaders from higher education, business and government.

“Music is a great way to inspire understanding,” said Mr. O’Keefe, who sees his background in music as an asset when it comes to breaking down barriers and building community. “It’s a way to communicate.”

He’s the only delegate from Newfoundland and Labrador taking part in next week’s event.

While in Ontario and Quebec, Mr. O’Keefe will co-author a joint policy brief that reflects the delegates’ collective vision for the future of Canadian foreign policy and Canada-U.S. relations. The brief will be published and submitted to the Government of Canada.

Young man sits in DF Cook Recital hall and holds a trumpet
According to Michael O’Keefe, creative people can help find solutions to global issues.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

“I’m excited about this opportunity,” said Mr. O’Keefe, who’s been active in student government since his first year at Memorial.

“By collaborating with diplomats, government officials, academics and students, I hope to gain a broad and intersectional perspective on the foreign policy that shapes Canada’s role in the world and to cultivate a plan for our future founded on innovation, inclusivity and culture.”

Music and people

Passionate about music, he performs extensively with the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, with ensembles at Memorial and as a soloist.

He’s also interested in the relationship between music and people, how it influences policy, justice and inclusivity, and its capacity to bring people of diverse backgrounds together.

“I came to the School of Music with a view to do performance and it remains my passion,” said Mr. O’Keefe. “But my mind has been opened to so much during my time at Memorial.

“One of my interests is in public policy and how the arts connect to that,” he continued. “I think it’s important to have strong voices from the arts community at the table.”

‘All about connecting’

Mr. O’Keefe says many of the complex issues in the world today, naming refugees, national security and climate change as just some examples, arise largely due to a lack of cross-cultural understanding.

“I think we are going to need creativity — the creativity of the arts — to help find solutions. It’s all about connecting with one another.”

The Fulbright Canada Youth Institute on Canada in the World is supported by Global Affairs Canada, the Canadian Foreign Service Institute and the Killam Fellowship Program.

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