St. Thomas University Celebrates Summer Convocation

Judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond wants graduates to use their own experiences of vulnerability to support others.

Turpel-Lafond, the first Aboriginal woman appointed to the Provincial Court in Saskatchewan, received an honorary doctorate at St. Thomas University’s summer convocation. She delivered the convocation address to the more than 140 graduates in Applied Art, Arts, Education, and Social Work.

“Every one of the graduates here have been vulnerable. When you decide to get a degree—to start your education—you know one thing: you are vulnerable to failure,” she said.

“But, to be vulnerable to failure is a very important experience. If you’ve been vulnerable to failure and you’ve succeeded, then you have a quality that is very important. That’s the quality of resilience. You are able to keep yourselves up and keep going, and I’m sure it wasn’t always easy—no matter your background or your family circumstance.”

Turpel-Lafond is a lawyer, judge, and children’s rights advocate. She was a criminal law judge in youth and adult courts and worked to develop partnerships to better serve the needs of young people in the justice system, particularly those who had been sexually exploited or had disabilities such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. She was appointed British Columbia’s first Representative for Children and Youth Officer in 2006, a position she held until 2016. As an independent officer of the Legislature, she supported children, youth, and families who required assistance when dealing with the child welfare system.

“You will be people who can participate in difficult conversations in a way that’s respectful, emphatic, and in a way that’s also able to look beyond your own achievements in life to see you have an obligation to see others do well.”

Embracing Newness: Bachelor of Education Class of 2017
Monica Rosvall, who delivered the Bachelor of Education valedictory address, also spoke about vulnerability.

“At some point in life, we will all feel uncomfortable, we will all walk in and out of certainty, and we will all, eventually, feel at ease with our educational decisions,” Rosvall said.

“Don’t let your dreams be dampened by what you can’t see, but embrace the newness with confidence in your education and yourself, knowing that you’re always learning and therefore, always becoming the best version of yourself.”

Working Beside Those Who Lost Hope: Mi’kmaq/Maliseet Bachelor of Social Work Class of 2017
Mi’kmaq/Maliseet Bachelor of Social Work (MMBSW) graduate Deanna Price delivered the Nutewistog, a Mi’kmaq word that means “a person who has been appointed by the people to speak on their behalf.” She told graduates that as indigenous social workers, they will have the opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and provide a voice against racist, assimilationist, and discriminatory policies and beliefs. 

“As Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqiyik, and Plains Cree Social Workers, we will give voice and create action, we will work beside others who have lost hope—who have lost their way. We will stand up against ecological racism and destruction. We will honour our past seven generations of ancestors and do everything we can to ensure a better future for the next seven generations. We will work towards a future without racism and oppression. Towards autonomy and self-determination. Towards an honourable confederation. A confederation of truth, justice, and action so that our children will not have to live in a world of assimilation, patriarchy, and misogyny.”

The MMBSW program is an accredited social work program that provides First Nation individuals with an opportunity to receive social work education within a flexible and culturally relevant framework.  The program is intended for First Nation peoples in New Brunswick and the Maritime Provinces who wish to become social workers in their communities.

The MMBSW class of 2017 is the fourth cohort to complete the degree since the program’s inception in 2005.

Click here to see photos of the convocation: