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Honorary degree recipient tackles the cycle of poverty, one child at a timeJune 20, 2022

As a professional football player, Brian Warren scribbled his name on countless scraps of paper and t-shirts for his young fans.

But even at the height of his seven-year Canadian Football League (CFL) career, Warren knew he had far more to give to the children than just an autograph.

He says his deep sense of caring – especially for young people growing up in poverty – was nurtured by his mother, a special education teacher in inner-city Phoenix.

His family also taught him that success wasn’t simply climbing up to achieve his own dreams, but also lifting others along with him.

That philosophy underpins Start2Finish, the charity Warren launched in 2000 after retiring from football.

Combining fitness, education and mentorship, the program aims to break the cycle of child poverty by inspiring kids to find their own successes, then encouraging them to become mentors themselves.

Brian Warren reads to kids as part of his organization Start2Finish.

As a linebacker playing for Edmonton and Toronto teams, Warren says he was moved by the excitement and energy he saw in Hamilton children cheering on their sports heroes. But he was aware that after the game, many would go home to lives of poverty and deprivation.

“I knew that an autograph was nowhere near enough – there had to be more. Sport is a great vehicle – it was a great vehicle for me. But life is every day.”

What started as a personal initiative to help 100 students in Hamilton’s 10 poorest schools has grown into a national success story that makes a difference in 70 communities across Canada.

While he played on two Grey Cup championship winning teams during his career, Warren says Start2Finish is his real legacy.

“These amazing young people won’t remember how many tackles I had or how many games I won, but the lives that have been changed and impacted, they are going to continue to impact other lives.”

In 2022, Warren was one of the Faculty of Engineering’s two honorary degree recipients.

He encouraged young graduates to celebrate their successes but also to use their degrees to make the world a better place.

Brian Warren inspires the audience with his speech to graduates at the 2022 McMaster Engineering Convocation.

“I challenge you to lift while climbing,” he urged graduates. “Your time is now. You are the builders of the future today, creating a brighter tomorrow for all.”