SACKVILLE, N.B. – The Mount Allison University campus was a busy place on Monday as hundreds of family members and friends gathered in Sackville to celebrate the graduates of the Class of 2018.
Mount A bestowed nearly 400 students with either a science, commerce, arts, fine arts or music degree during the spring Convocation ceremonies on Monday, each of them ready to begin a new chapter of their life.
“Here we sit, nervous and excited, eager and unsure, readying ourselves to leave the Sackville bubble and come face to face with a rapidly-changing world,” said class valedictorian Hannah MacKellar, an honours biology and biochemistry student from Ottawa.
MacKellar told her fellow grads that, although it is easy to feel unprepared for the political and ecological turmoil they’ll encounter as they go out on their own paths, she is confident the transformation they have all made during their years at Mount Allison will help them along the way.
“None of us are the same people who sat in those chairs on commencement all those years ago,” she said. “Whether it was intentional or a by-product of the learning and growth that comes along with an undergraduate degree, we all changed for the better, and are more equipped to make the world a better place for it.”
MacKellar said she is proud of the graduating class of 2018 and “truly cannot wait to see what we will make of our next adventure, how we will continue to grow, and how we will take our time here together with us for the rest of our lives.”
Waneek Horn-Miller, guest speaker for the morning ceremony and honorary degree recipient, urged the students to be courageous as they head out into a world with so much opportunity in front of them.
Horn-Miller, an Indigenous advocate, activist, and Olympian, told the students if they want to make the world a better place, they will need to stand up to a world full of established institutions and start challenging the long-entrenched “this is just the way it is” mentality that has been rooted in society for centuries.
“In this next phase of your life, you’re leaving a place and an idea of yourself that has been comfortable and safe.”
But she said the dreams and ideals that brought them to university and that has pushed them through the past four years will now start to come into conflict with those established institutions and engrained way of doing things.
Horn-Miller said fortunately “we’re living in a time of courageous people who have found their voice, such as the men and women of the #MeToo movement who decided against huge odds that they were no longer going to accept that was just the way it’s always been.” And she said the graduates too can be part of this transformative evolution.
“We have an incredible opportunity in this country to create something that has never existed anywhere on this planet anytime in history. We have a chance to create a country that, no matter what race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, economic level, you can achieve your dreams and your hopes to the greatest of your capacity.”
– Waneek Horn-Miller
She said it’s important for the students to be part of the fight and make these changes, not just for today but for future generations.
“So as you graduate, I’m not going to wish you luck, because luck’s not going to get us there. I wish you courage. I wish you to never stop fighting and never stop listening to that inner voice that makes you dream in the first place. I wish you courage to get out into the world and join that movement. Join them to smash down those walls and smash down those barriers that say ‘that’s just the way it is and you have to accept it.’ I wish you courage to create a world instead that is based on ‘this is the world that I dreamed it would have been.’ I wish you courage to be the warriors that your great-great-great grandchildren will find inspiration.”
Horn-Miller, a Mohawk bear clan woman from the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, is well known for her extraordinary role in the 1990 OKA crisis, one of the most famous Aboriginal land claims battles in recent history. Her mother was one of the over 50 native rights activists arrested during this land dispute. On the day the stand-off was being negotiated, 14-year-old Horn-Miller was stabbed close to the heart by a solider while she was carrying her four-year-old sister.
Also receiving honorary degrees from Mount Allison on Monday were: Sandra Crabtree, president of the Crabtree Foundation and Mount Allison alumna; Bharat Masrani, group president and Chief Executive Officer of TD Bank Group; Arlen Dumas, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Chief of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation (MCCN) in Pukatawagan, and Mount A alumnus; and retired Chief Justice of Canada Beverley McLauchlin.
Masrani advised the students to pursue their passions and live the lives they wish to lead.
“Don’t ever underestimate your ability to dream big and set outrageous goals for yourself. The only person who will ever hold you back from achieving them is yourself.”
But he also urged them to always think about those who are not as fortunate as them, and to work towards building a more inclusive future for all.
“It is both your obligation and opportunity to build an even stronger Canada from the one you have had the good fortune to inherit,” said Masrani.
Mount A’s president Robert Campbell, who presided over his final Convocation on Monday after 12 years at the helm, said he is confident the students of the 2018 class have come a long way in the past four years towards discovering who they are, what their values are, and what makes them “tick.”
He said this year’s graduates have been a “particularly interesting class, an exceptional class and a highly-engaged, fun and at times even a provocative group in many ways, and it has had incredible experiences and adventures.” And he pointed out these Mount Allison experiences will “be a part of you forever.”
Also during Monday’s ceremonies, Lynn Loewen was formally installed as the University’s ninth Chancellor. A Mount Allison alumna and a former board of regents chair, Loewen is currently president of Minogue Medical Inc., and also serves on the board of Emera Inc.