Current Honorary Degree Recipients

U of A names honorary degree recipients for 2021 spring convocation

A humanitarian homebuilder, a leader in cardiology, a longtime advocate for Indigenous youth and Alberta’s 19th lieutenant-governor will receive the university’s highest honour as part of virtual convocation ceremonies this June.

Spring 2021 Honorary Degree Recipients

Four Edmontonians whose distinct and equally noble efforts to help others have made their hometown, province and country a better place will receive Honorary Degrees as part of the University of Alberta's virtual graduation ceremonies this June.

U of A Chancellor Peggy Garritty said this year’s recipients of an Honorary Degree—the highest honour the university confers—exemplify the power of one person to create positive change in local, national and international communities.

“The recipients we’re announcing today certainly meet that test. Individually, their accomplishments are outstanding and each one of them has made contributions that extend well beyond their professional lives,” said Garritty. “They are inspiring role models for our students and our entire community, and we’re proud to recognize them with Honorary Degrees from the University of Alberta.”

U of A engineering alumnus Reza Nasseri founded Landmark Homes in 1977 and ever since has used his success to lead the push for sustainability in the homebuilding sector and make lasting contributions to community initiatives. He created the Landmark Community Care Program, which has been the source of more than $21 million in contributions to a wide range of social, education and community programs. He spearheaded the House of Hope program, which unites homebuilders and suppliers to build homes and over the last 25 years has raised $1.8 million from their partner suppliers and trades for the U of A Hospital Foundation. Nasseri is also an ardent supporter of the arts in Edmonton, and his family’s philanthropic passion revolves around providing support for women, children and vulnerable populations. Nasseri was inducted into the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2010 and appointed to the Order of Canada in 2018.
Reza Nasseri received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree.  Click here to watch his Convocation Address.

U of A alumna and former associate Dean of Medicine Ruth Collins-Nakai is a cardiologist and physician leader from Pincher Creek, Alberta. After completing her medical degree at the U of A and fellowship at Harvard, Collins-Nakai came back to Edmonton where she enjoyed a 24-year academic career at the university and an additional eight years working in cardiology clinics. Along the way, she established the Heritage Pediatric Cardiology Program, the precursor to the U of A’s successful congenital heart program, which now serves Western Canada. She also introduced ultrasound of the heart and helped establish an infant heart surgery program. A staunch advocate of public health, she advocated for research into early child development and led efforts to introduce airline smoking restrictions. A former president of the Canadian Medical Association, Collins-Nakai also influenced research and clinical practices worldwide as the first Canadian to head two of the leading bodies in her field: the American College of Cardiology and the Inter-American Society of Cardiology. She was inducted into the Order of Canada in 2016.
Ruth Collins-Nakai received an Honorary Doctor of Science degree.  Click here to watch her Convocation Address.

Cheryl Whiskeyjack has committed her life going above and beyond in her work to help vulnerable populations and to bridge Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships among a wide range of community groups and organizations. Whiskeyjack began her career as a youth worker in 1994 at the newly opened Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, which provides programs and services for Edmonton’s urban Indigenous youth. She has grown with the organization and is now its executive director, overseeing 100 staff and more than 20 programs. Her leadership has made her an invaluable member on numerous boards that serve society’s most vulnerable. She is a general member of the National Advisory Council on Poverty and is serving as co-chair of End Poverty Edmonton, ensuring a focus on reconciliation. Her belief in the power of post-secondary institutions in creating change has resulted in a mutually beneficial relationship with the U of A. Whiskeyjack has been an excellent mentor to U of A academics, helping them build respectful relationships with Indigenous communities, and has taken a leadership role in the Faculty of Extension’s Community-University Partnership for the Study of Children, Youth and Families.
Cheryl Whiskeyjack received an Honorary Doctor of laws degree.  Click her to watch her Convocation Address.

Salma Lakhani was installed as Alberta’s 19th Lieutenant-Governor on Aug. 26, 2020—the first person of Muslim faith and South Asian descent to be appointed to the position. Her career of service has been guided by her commitment to the values of pluralism and inclusion and to championing those who face barriers in life. Lakhani also has a deep-seated love of education, seeing first-hand how access to it can change people’s fortunes. After the government of her home country of Uganda expelled all people of Asian descent in 1972, it was her family's focus on education and her post-secondary studies in Britain that gave her a future. In 1977, she and her husband Zaheer came to Edmonton, where Zaheer continued his medical studies at the U of A. Lakhani helped to manage her husband’s cardiology practice while operating a business focused on early childhood education. Wanting to give back to the community that welcomed her, Lakhani became one of the first mentors in NorQuest College’s Youth in Transition program, providing guidance for students learning English as a second language. She also shared her skills, energy and passion for service with the Lois Hole Hospital for Women, Kids Kottage, Sorrentino’s Compassion House, the Alberta Cancer Board, the Zebra Foundation, the Aga Khan Foundation Canada and the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights. She has received the Alberta Centennial and Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in recognition of her service to the community and civil society, and was inducted as a member and chancellor of the Alberta Order of Excellence upon her appointment as lieutenant-governor of Alberta.
Salma Lakhani received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree.  Click here to watch her Convocation Address (time marker 18:20).

Although the pandemic precludes the normal celebrations, Garritty said she is looking forward to seeing each Honorary Degree Recipient in person, to thank them for their contributions to the community and to so many who were touched by their work.

“That day will come as soon as it’s safe to do so.”

April 28, 2021 By Michael Brown

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