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Canadian Society of Association Executives 2017 Valedictorian Speech

Canadian Society of Association Executives 2017 Valedictorian Speech

Welcome fellow CSAE graduates, current students, prestigious alumni, respected staff, and honoured guests.

It is a privilege, and an honour, to stand here in front of so many amazing individuals committed to learning, and to Canadian Association leadership.

I had an amazing teacher in high school, who also happened to be our football coach. He always said: If you’re not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.

Fortunately for me, my current boss reminds me a lot of my old coach. (In fact, Patrick Culhane, President and CEO of the Canadian Payroll Association is a certified football coach, and this year’s recipient of the CSAE Pinnacle Award for outstanding Association leadership!)

Quand mon employeur a exigé que je suive le premier niveau du certificat SCDA àfin d’atteindre mes objectives de l’année en cours, j’étais curieuse, un peu inquiète, mais aussi très fière de sa confiance en ma réussite.

Looking at the prestigious letters “CAE” that followed some of my colleagues’ names, I felt like a young quarterback with my eye on that Superbowl ring. (Ou, celle de la Coupe grey ici au Canada.)

Like in football, or in any other sport, successful management depends on the major themes contained within the very first level of the CAE program: Leadership, change, strategy and structure.


  • Les professeurs et autres étudiants de la Societé nous ont démontré le “leadership” à pouvoir prendre le ballon et de garder les yeux ouverts à chaque étape en jeux.
  • L’adoption du changement est un des plus grands défis pour les associations.
  • Weekly readings acted like our playbook, inspiring students to try a new strategy, both within our weekly assignments and, more importantly, within our associations.
  • And the very structure of the course, including the regular chat room assignments, enabled students to form a huddle with our peers to explore new ideas and to learn from best practices.


And learn, we did.

Every topic of each course added to our arsenal of association executive competencies including: strategic leadership, effective team-building, communications, understanding members, trends and issues, technology, advocacy… and the list goes on and on.

And as the learning for each unfolded, we were able to identify our own strengths and weaknesses, as well as opportunities and challenges facing our associations.

L’examen était similaire à un match de football de 48 heures. To successfully make it through the 48-hour CAE exam, we had to analyze the three issues; draw upon years’ worth of learning and experience to come up with a plan of attack; pace ourselves strategically through each step; and continue to hear our coach’s encouraging words under our helmets. (That, and remember to take plenty of water and stretching breaks!)

The 2017 CAE graduation class exemplifies what teamwork is. As within an association community, this graduation class proved we are stronger together. Nous avons travaillé ensemble durant le cours, et nous nous sommes assurés que personne n’échappe le ballon pendant l’examen.

We’ve all had a mentor or two (or more) who has helped us along our path to joining this prestigious group of Canadian Association Executives. Our job now is to encourage and support our employees to start on their own journey of learning, certification and leadership. You may not always recognize who your future star quarterback is, until you call them up off the bench to assess and build upon their current competencies.

Together, we can create the next generation of champions that will lead us, and Canadian associations, into the future.

Merci beaucoup!



Rachel De Grâce, CAE, CPM
Manager, Advocacy and Legislative Content / Directrice, Représentation et contenu législatif
The Canadian Payroll Association / L’Association canadienne de la paie



Have you been considering expanding your career in the not-for-profit sector? Do you want to be doing more in your role as an association executive but lack the skills and expertise? The Canadian Society of Association Executives' Certified Association Executive (CAE) Program can help.



CAE, Valedictorian, Rachel De Grace


Guest Contributor, CAE Program



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