UAlberta congratulates the class of 2015. As we celebrate all that our newest graduates have achieved, we look forward to all that they will achieve, making a profound impact in their community, throughout Alberta, across Canada and around the world. Spring ceremonies included 13 honorary degree recipients, and fall ceremonies include three honorary degree recipients.
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Isaac Tyler: Setting the bar high
This year, Isaac Tyler hit his personal best—in more ways than one. The Golden Bears high jumper took third at the CanWest championships. Now he’s ready to take an even bigger leap into life after graduation, with a degree in native studies and a new job developing Aboriginal learning programs with Edmonton Catholic Schools. “I didn’t know what it would lead to when I was finished,” he says, “but I knew it was going to be information I could use for a long time and something I could use to contribute back when I was done.”
Hugh Bolton, honorary doctor of laws
The former chair and senior executive partner of what is now PriceWaterhouseCoopers offered the class of 2015 some advice on leadership drawn from his own experience as a U of A economics student and his subsequent career as a respected leader in corporate governance. Boiling it down to the essentials of cultivating communication and respecting people, Bolton asked his audience of future leaders to accept one of leadership’s greatest challenges: being challenged by the people they will lead.
Samantha Nutt, honorary doctor of science
It wasn’t the convocation speech she had thought she would give, but in the wake of terror in Paris, the founder of War Child delivered an impassioned plea to graduands to celebrate their humanity. “Remember who you are. Remember where you come from, the essence of which is all around you here today. And remember to never, ever hesitate to show those you love how much you truly mean it.”
Kelly Harding: Lifelong learner, teaching innovator
With four degrees from the U of A, including her just-completed doctorate in education, Kelly Harding embodies lifelong learning. For her research, Harding drew on her experiences as vice-principal of Edmonton’s Centre High for at-risk teens. What she discovered could help change how teachers are prepared for their profession, building a better classroom experience for students and teachers alike.
Hon. Lois Mitchell, honorary doctor of laws
Alberta’s 18th lieutenant governor had some tough advice for graduands at their convocation ceremony Nov. 17: “Seek out the harshest critics you can find.” Urging her audience to heed the hard truths that come with rejection, Mitchell tempered her message with a note of encouragement: “If you do what you love, it won’t seem like hard work and it won’t feel like taking risks. It will simply be what you were meant to do.”
Aileen Reilly: Honouring a debt of knowledge
Aileen Reilly was in first-year science at the U of A when she decided to take an arts option in anthropology. She picked up six more anthropology courses on the way to finishing her science degree, reigniting a passion she'd had since childhood. She went on to earn an after-degree in arts and now graduates with a master’s degree partly focused on hide tanning in the Dene community of Watson Lake on the Yukon’s southern border. "I felt a connection with the subject and I went for it," she says. "This is part of my life forever."
Hannah O’Rourke: Research with feeling
Playing music for hospital patients with dementia convinced Hannah O’Rourke that their perspectives matter to improving their quality of life. The research that earned O’Rourke her PhD in nursing was also inspired by a personal connection with her grandmother—a connection she keeps alive through a treasured photo. “It’s a daily reminder for me to keep working and pressing forward because, although my research may not change my Oma's experience of being cared for as a person with dementia, perhaps I will do enough in my career to have an impact on future experiences for others.”
Bruce Saville, honorary doctor of laws
As a successful entrepreneur and a community builder, Bruce Saville has lived the central lesson he imparted to grads of nursing and phys ed: “Team is everything.... The better the people around you, the more success you will have.” Sharing a “12-step program” that emphasized the value of loyalty, integrity, hard work, intelligence and leadership, Saville assured the grads, “You will all have an opportunity to lead. And all teams—whether they are sports teams, medical teams or families—need leadership.”
Amelia Hall: All-around badass
When she wasn’t studying the fiery, gun-wielding heroines of Mexican “border films” for her honours thesis, arts grad Amelia Hall was wielding a nail gun in her summer job framing houses. As she heads for a master’s program next fall, Hall plans to keep pursuing both passions as far as they will take her. “She’s an excellent writer and is very curious,” says Victoria Ruétalo, the professor who guided Hall toward her thesis topic. “She clearly has a bright future.”
Mona Jiang: Performing arts triple threat
An actor and dancer in her native China, Mona Jiang came to the U of A to learn the art of what happens behind the curtain. While earning her BFA in stage management, she gained friends and supporters in her close-knit cohort, and found a mentor in her drama professor, who gave her plenty of encouragement and opportunities to see the theory in practice in Edmonton’s thriving arts scene. With several production credits already under her belt, her new career is off to a great start. “If I can do it,” she says, ”you can too.”
Chantal St-Cyr Hébert, honorary doctor of laws
Chantal Hébert told graduands of the Faculty of Arts and Campus Saint-Jean not to worry if their post-university plans aren’t set in stone. With her trademark wry humour, the celebrated French-Canadian journalist, political commentator and author shared her story of being uncertain why she was in university, then being a “painfully shy girl” in her first job as a reporter. “Do what you love, but also love what you do,” she said. “They are not always one and the same.”
Patricia Clements, honorary doctor of letters
“What can you do with an arts degree? Just about anything you want to do. You can, and I’m sure you will, change the world,” said Patricia Clements to her convocation audience June 10. With that, the professor emerita and former dean of arts launched an impassioned defence of the liberal arts. Expressing gratitude for her own U of A education, Clements went on to cite several successful arts grads, including one in particular: “Next time somebody asks you what you can do with your BA,” she said, “why not suggest they ask Rachel Notley what she is doing with hers?”
Brendan Bottcher: Rock star student-athlete
Brendan Bottcher had a choice: lead his curling team to the Canadian and world junior championships in 2012, or focus on becoming an engineer. That wasn’t a choice the 23-year-old was willing to make. With help from his varsity curling coach and the chair of the chemical engineering undergrad program, Bottcher went on to win those championships. Now, with his degree in hand, he is preparing to take his top-ranked rink on a two-year journey of competition that could see them qualify for the 2018 Olympics.
Rear-Admiral Jennifer Bennett, honorary doctor of laws
When Jennifer Bennett first became involved in the Canadian Naval Reserve as a high-school student, she was just looking for a summer job. She ended up with a 39-year career of distinguished service to her nation. Bennett, Canada’s first female rear-admiral and senior ranking reserve officer, told engineering grads her greatest source of pride was the impact of her example and accomplishments. “Never underestimate the power of what you do and who you are. Your legacy and influence go well beyond a job title, rank and official responsibilities—it is how you do things.”
Guaning Su, honorary doctor of science
In an address that was by turns serious and sentimental, Guaning Su told engineering graduands to take advantage of “tectonic shifts” between East and West. Su, who has made immense contributions to Singapore’s military defence as a research engineer and served as president of Nanyang Technological University, fondly recalled his time as a U of A student and encouraged his audience to do the same as they make their own mark: “Dream big dreams, venture out, tackle grand challenges, explore the global village, slay mighty dragons and achieve world peace. But always remember the people who made this possible and cherish the memories of the University of Alberta and of home.”
Emily Dietrich: Sustaining a new life
When Emily Dietrich started taking post-secondary courses, she didn’t know what a degree was, but she knew it would change her life. With help from a community of supporters, she now has not one but two degrees. With the newly minted MBA she earned over four years while working full-time, the outreach and engagement lead at the U of A’s Office of Sustainability will keep growing the community of sustainability leaders on campus—a community she is proud to be part of.
Stephen Toope, honorary doctor of laws
Stephen Toope has seen his share of convocation ceremonies. But it had been awhile since the longtime university administrator had received his own parchment during the ceremony—in this case, an honorary doctor of laws degree. In his address to future business leaders, Toope urged them to embrace their fear of the uncertain and the unfamiliar, and expressed his wish that “with confidence and humility, you will find your way through fear to leadership, and that you will make destiny your friend.”
Arnold Wong: Uplifting mentorship
When Arnold Wong came to the U of A six years ago to research low-back pain, he found more than a PhD supervisor. In Greg Kawchuk, the Hong Kong native found a mentor who inspired him to reach further as a scientist. And in Wong, Kawchuk found a “natural team captain.” Now supervising his own students and expanding his promising research, Wong aims for the same standard of mentorship as the professor who made him an honorary family member.
Dennis Slamon, honorary doctor of science
Medical pioneer Dennis Slamon used a joke to make a serious point with his convocation audience of future health professionals: don’t miss the obvious. In Slamon’s case, noticing that different women might have different types of breast cancer led to the development of Herceptin, an antibody therapy that has since saved the lives of thousands of women worldwide. “What you have available to you in terms of the technologies that are now available, what you’ve learned about, how you can apply them, is absolutely remarkable,” he told the graduands. “The future is indeed yours.”
Emily Moore: Catching the science bug
Emily Moore isn’t squeamish about bugs: her favourite is a prehistoric dragonfly the size of a Canada goose, with a metre-long wingspan. Her curiosity about the ancient insects led her to the U of A’s world-leading paleontology program, where she met two professors who brought out her passion for science and education—a passion that has taken her from Antarctica to Africa.
Danny Gaudet, honorary doctor of laws
In his convocation address to science and pharmacy grads, Danny Gaudet told the story of his 18-year struggle to negotiate self-governance for his boyhood home of Déline, N.W.T. It was a story of hard work, perseverance and eventual success—a tale Gaudet hoped his audience would take to heart as they celebrated their own achievements. “You will have to lift many boulders,” he said. “You can choose to do it alone or to rely on the strength of the community you have built around you. You can choose to keep learning from your mistakes, and to keep moving forward even when there are forces that try to stop you.”
Xian-En Zhang, honorary doctor of science
As a child, Xian-En Zhang was curious about everything in nature. His thirst for knowledge gradually became a dream of being a scientist, and although circumstance deferred his dream, Zhang never lost sight of it. Decades later, his passion for collaborative science has produced significant contributions to biosensor technology, and international partnerships between U of A researchers and colleagues in China. “If you have a dream," he advised graduands, "never give up on it.”
Nabeel Jaffer: From vacation to vocation in Nepal
Education grad Nabeel Jaffer went to Nepal to do some mountain biking and rock climbing, and hang out with the locals. But when he learned why girls in rural regions were leaving school too early, his enthusiasm for the outdoors turned into a passion for sanitation. Now, the self-described “toilet nerd” works with communities to help young women reclaim their education.
Jane Ash Poitras, honorary doctor of letters
For Jane Ash Poitras, coming back to the U of A was a chance to reconnect in more ways than one. Addressing graduands of the faculties of education and native studies, the respected visual artist credited her honorary doctor of letters degree to the adoptive mother who taught her the ABCs. She connected her love of art and science with her education at the university. And she reminded the class of 2015 to keep alive their own meaningful connections with the people they love. “I’m a well-rounded person,” she said. “And that’s what I expect of all of you … I expect a lot of you and one day I expect you to stand up here and go through this.”
Hon. Dave Hancock, honorary doctor of laws
Accepting an honorary degree from his alma mater, Alberta’s 15th premier spoke of the strong values he learned from his family and his education. Addressing graduands in the faculties of education and law, Dave Hancock noted the importance of both professions to creating a better society, and urged the future teachers and lawyers to be “an active part—not a bystander—in that ‘upward march of humanity.’”
Maureen Murray: Helping humans and coyotes get along
In high school, Maureen Murray decided she’d rather study animals in the field than in a lab. That decision eventually led her to the U of A’s biology department and the Edmonton Urban Coyote Project, where she earned her PhD doing research on how the wily creatures learn to adapt to city life, and how to prevent conflict between the urban-dwelling animals and their human neighbours.
Robert Church, honorary doctor of science
Robert Church had planned to be a farmer. But his plans changed in high school after he was run over by a truck. Fortunately, he found a “world of passion and ideas” in the U of A’s agriculture program, and went on to make pioneering contributions to the genetics industry in Alberta and Canada as a researcher and administrator. Returning to his alma mater to accept an honorary doctor of science degree, he encouraged graduands in the Faculty of ALES to follow their “24/7 passion” and to be bold, adaptable and curious in the pursuit of that passion.
Reid Graham: Inspired by the past, aiming for the future
Archeologist Reid Graham earned his master’s degree by resurrecting 50-year-old research on a 1,500-year-old bison kill site in east central Alberta. Inspired by flint hunting points and other artifacts he studied there, he fashions his own versions of the atlatl, a spear-thrower that predates the bow and arrow, which he uses to teach others about the riches of the prairie past.
Russel Schnell, honorary doctor of science
Taking Augustana’s class of 2015 on a journey through his life, renowned researcher and U of A alumnus Russell Schnell credited his small-town Alberta roots for seeing him through some tight spots and contributing to his international success as an expert on Earth’s atmosphere and climate change. “A rural upbringing never appeared to me to be an impediment,” he said. “In fact, it gave me a great advantage.”