Désirée McGraw: Loyola in her DNA

June 6, 2023

Originally published in the Winter/Spring 2023 edition of the Loyola Today

As Loyola High School prepares to welcome its first co-educational cohort in 2023-24, living out our motto of being men and women for others, we look to highlight the women in our community – parents, sisters, daughters, faculty and staff – who have exemplified our Jesuit, Catholic mission through their lives.

Désirée w/ family

Désirée McGraw is one such woman. She is herself a graduate of a former Jesuit school, Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf. No stranger to the Loyola community, Désirée’s husband, Christopher Marilley, is an alumnus of ‘81, and her two older sons, Jack and Michael respectively, are set to be ‘23 and ‘27 graduates. She counts among her influences Warren Allmand ‘48, whose son Patrick graduated in ‘84, Dr. Don Taddeo ‘63 and Fr. Marc Gervais SJ, former head of the Communications department at Loyola College as well as her late father Dr. John McGraw who moved from Michigan to Montreal in order to take up a position as professor of philosophy at Loyola College.

In an interview with Loyola Today, Désirée recounted the life experiences that shaped her, and we couldn’t help but see this through the lens of the Grad at Grad, which serves as a guide for the profile of the student we want to graduate. In this way, Désirée McGraw meets the requirements of what it means to be an alumna at Loyola. 

“Loyola was always part of my identity growing up, even though I was not a student here.”


The notion of the “5 Characteristics of the Loyola Grad at Grad” serves as a guide for the profile of the student we want to graduate. This helps Loyola evaluate everything that is done in the formation of our students.


desireemcgraw“Any time you start a new career, you have to be open to growth. You have to be willing to make mistakes, learn from them and move forward. It’s called failing forward and failing fast.” At Pearson, Désirée arrived at a time of major change. The board had decided to wind-down a 40- year tradition of full scholarship for every student, which she described as “well-intentioned but financially unsustainable” as it was drawing down the college endowment at a rate that would see it close within a decade. Her job as president – the first woman to hold the position – was to implement a new policy that means-tested the families of students. Not knowing the culture or environment she was entering, her first step was being open to actively listening and learning, spending six months doing so in order to both better understand the context and better explain the new position.


“Being educated in a Catholic family has had an important influence on me.” One of Désirée’s fondest memories of working for the government under Prime Minister Paul Martin was his strong faith. She remembered that no matter where he was in the country or the world, he would make sure to find time on the weekend to attend Mass. Her own education and family instilled her with strong values rooted in Catholic tradition.


“I grew up with parents who are educators, so that’s in my DNA.” From the election campaign to serving in the National Assembly, Désirée compares her new life in politics to going back to school, and she draws parallels with the experience of her second son as he was starting Secondary 1 at Loyola. There were new rules, new ways of proceeding, new people, and, after seven years outside a francophone environment, a new language to re-master. In this way, she sees herself as a lifelong learner who must constantly absorb and apply new information to best serve the role she is in.


Désirée w/ family“Love is really what unites us – coming together around communities and causes that touch all of us.” For Désirée, her community of Montreal West and NDG – the riding in which Loyola is deeply rooted – gives her the energy and confidence to tackle difficult matters. While the National Assembly in Quebec City can often be contentious, she notes that there are unifying moments, when politicians of all stripes stand together to support motions or statements in the face of emergency situations or humanitarian crises. “There can be love in politics.” 


“Climate change is a multifaceted issue that really speaks to the Jesuit values, socially and environmentally.” With a professional background in advocacy and policy, Désirée demonstrates her commitment to environmental justice by working as the Official Opposition Critic for the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change. She believes that we need to understand the far-reaching nature of the crisis, such as impacts on migration and underprivileged communities. She also believes that the key to alleviating the eco-anxiety experienced by youth is not by passing the buck or paying lip service to the next generation, but by working in partnership with them. Désirée concludes, we have a crucial responsibility, because we have the ability to respond.

Désirée Désirée McGraw (P ‘23, ‘27) was elected to the National Assembly of Québec in the 2022 provincial general election. She represents the riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce as a member of the Quebec Liberal Party, which forms the Official Opposition and, as such, she acts as the critic for Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks as well as Canadian Relations and the Canadian Francophonie. Désirée previously served as president and CEO of Pearson College UWC from 2015 to 2019, president of the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation from 2008 to 2015, and was a national co-founder of Climate Reality Canada with the objective of educating Canadians about the science and impacts of climate change as well as solutions to address it. Prior to her return to politics as MNA, she served as Senior Policy Advisor in the Paul Martin Government from 2003 to 2006.


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