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Richard J. Schmeelk, founder of the Schmeelk Canada Foundation

My career path might seem unusual, to say the least. I am an American, born on Long Island, N.Y. After completing military service, I embarked on a career in banking, climbing the ranks on Wall Street, where I spent more than 30 years, notably as a partner with the acclaimed Salomon Brothers, until the end of the 1980s.

Although my career as an investment banker was in the United States, it was in Canada that I would have my date with destiny.

I spent my career advising Canadian public administrations and private companies on investment questions. I worked tirelessly to represent the interests of the federal government and those of the provinces. For many years, I was responsible for the Quebec and Hydro-Québec portfolios, in addition to advising many Canadian corporations, including Bell Canada, Canadian Pacific Ltd. and Imperial Oil Ltd.

If I enjoyed a prosperous career in finance, there is no doubt I owe it to Canada, its executives and its entrepreneurs. So when the time came for me to retire, I wanted to return the favour and show my gratitude. To do so, in 1985, I established the Richard J. Schmeelk Canada Fellowship, which today is one of the most prestigious scholarships in the country.

For the past 25 years, the Schmeelk Canada Foundation has awarded generous fellowships to young Canadian leaders who have completed an undergraduate degree and wish to continue their studies in the country's other official language.

This fellowship provides $10,000 per semester to master's and doctoral students, to a maximum of $40,000 over four semesters. Candidates must be Canadian citizens or permanent residents who have already applied to one of the following Canadian universities: the University of Western Ontario (London) or University of Calgary for francophones, and Université Laval or Université de Montréal for anglophones.

The fellowship supports leadership and academic excellence as well as encouraging greater understanding and collaboration between the country's francophone and anglophone communities, stimulating discussion and giving tomorrow's decision-makers a more inclusive and tolerant vision of Canada's cultural diversity.

To date, more than 80 young Canadian leaders have benefited from the fellowships and shared in a total of more than $3-million.

They form an exceptional group of motivated young people across the country who share the conviction that through tolerance and mutual understanding, Canada's linguistic and cultural duality is not a weakness, but a great strength that must be a source of pride for all Canadians.

Through their understanding and acceptance of the complexity and multiplicity of Canada's linguistic and cultural foundations, the fellows strive to reaching the foundation's objectives and contribute to Canada's cultural wealth.

Richard J. Schmeelk is the founder of the Schmeelk Canada Foundation.