The audience was swayed by the arguments of passion and success, ending in a 58-51 House vote.

By a narrow 58-51 vote, attendees at the annual Hart House Alumni Debate voted to reject the motion “This House Regrets the Narrative that Following Your Passion is the Path to Success.”

The big picture

There are many conflicting opinions as to whether it is wise to follow your passions. Vincent Van Gough said, “I would rather die of passion than of boredom.” On the other hand, a 2018 Stanford Paper argued that people following their passions were less likely to “anticipate difficulties in pursuing passions” and were thus likely to fail when facing roadblocks. A debate was held at Hart House to explore both sides of this issue.

What is the alumni debate?

An annual tradition hosted by the Hart House Debates and Dialogue Committee, the debate serves as a platform for U of T alumni and students to discuss pressing issues of the day “while celebrating the spirit of lively debate that has played a defining role in the educational experience of many.”

Who took part?

The debate was chaired by the Hart House Debate Club (HHDC) president Gautier Boyrie.

Speaking for the government and supporting the motion that following your passion is not the key to success were Dr. Ira Wells and James Coady. Wells is the current Academic Programs Director at Victoria College while Coady is a fourth year HHDC debater.

Acting as the opposition and arguing that following your passion is the key to success were Dr. Joy Fitzgibbon and Deborah Wong. Fitzgibbon serves as an assistant professor and associate director of the Margaret MacMillan Trinity One Program at Trinity College and while Wong is a third-year competitive debater at HHDC.

A select few audience members also chose to offer their opinions near the end of the debate.

Format of the debate

Each speaker was granted seven minutes of speaking time.

Wells opened the debate on behalf of the government and was opposed by Wong. Then, Coady reaffirmed the motion and was opposed by Fitzgibbon.

Afterwards, each side was granted four additional minutes of speaking time to conclude their arguments. At the conclusion of the debate, the audience members could offer their opinion in favor or against the motion and take part in the “splitting of the house” where they voted on who they believe presented the stronger arguments.

What the debaters and audience members said?

For the motion

“What makes [successful people] successful has more to do with willpower and determination and discipline than it does with passion,” said Wells.

“The case that opposition brings you fundamentally misunderstands what passion is,” responded Coady. “The egoism in following your passion is very harmful to the human person.”

“I think this holy grail of passion puts too much pressure on young minds to pursue individualistic pursuits,” stated an audience member.

Against the motion

“This narrative [of passion] generates the most amount of contentment for individuals,” declared Wong. “When an individual person follows their passion, you probably get a more diverse and inclusive society.”

“Passion can actually lead to a deeper awareness of our purpose in life and our calling,” stated Fitzgibbon.

“When [Steve Jobs] decided to drop out of university, he decided to take classes that interested him [before he left]. He ended up taking calligraphy… And as a result, we have beautiful word processors when we might not have,” argued an audience member.


“Mr. Speaker, what happens if you like both private equity and biblical studies. What if we think both interpretations of the question are incomplete…I think we need to find the middle way, the third way, the either-or way… the Canadian way” proclaimed an audience member.


58 audience members were swayed by the opposition and rejected the motion while, 51 audience members supported the government and stood for the motion.

What’s next?

On Jan 29, Hart House will host the 6th Annual CIC Foreign Affairs Debate at the Hart House Debates Room between 7:00-9:00 p.m.

The event will be comprised of student debaters from U of T and Ryerson University who will argue the motion “Be it Resolved That the United Nations Should be Abolished.”

U of T will stand in favor of the motion while Ryerson will stand in opposition. An expert panel of three judges will judge the debate in addition to the splitting of the house.

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