By Neale McDevitt
Principal Heather Munroe-Blum evoked McGill’s storied past to spur graduating students to forge their own bright futures in yesterday’s Fall Convocation ceremonies.
“James McGill was living on the grounds of our beautiful downtown campus when, in 1811, he made the bequest of his Burnside estate and 10,000 pounds to create the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning. McGill’s gift was made when Montreal was a small town of on the edge of an undeveloped continent and there was no certainty at all that on this land could ever be the site, 200 years hence, of a great city or world-class university,” she told the audience that packed Place des Arts’ Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier for two separate ceremonies.
“Graduating class of 2012, you are the direct beneficiaries of that pioneering leap of faith of our founder, a Scottish-born, multilingual, fur trader and merchant who believed above all else in the transformative power of education.”
In all, some 1,600 students received their diplomas on Wednesday. As well, the University conferred honorary doctorates upon two notable Quebec natives; Michael Meighen, former Canadian senator, lawyer and cultural patron; and Daniel Lamarre, Canadian businessman and President and Chief Executive Officer of Cirque du Soleil.(Read more about them and watch a video of the Convocation address each delivered here.)
The celebration continued with the awarding of a variety of prizes for staff and faculty. There were six winners of Principal’s Awards for Administrative and Support Staff. These included Allan T. Oliver, Energy Control Technician, Building Operations, Facilities Operations & Development, University Services (Trades and Services category); Anthony Howell, Curatorial Technician, Redpath Museum (Technical category); Donna Wilkinson, Program Assistant, Centre for Educational Leadership, Faculty of Education (Clerical category); Geneviève Leroux, Senior Disability Management Advisor, Pensions and Benefits, Human Resources (Managers and Professionals category); Tony Vaccaro, North East Sector Supervisor of the downtown campus, Facilities Operations and Development, University Services (Managers and Professionals category); and the Office for Students with Disabilities, represented by Gordon Dionne, Access Services Advisor (Team category).
Winners of the Principal’s Prize for Excellence in Teaching included Jeffrey Bergthorson, Dept of Mechanical Engineering (Assistant Professor category); Laura Nilson, Dept of Biology (Associate Professor category); Kenneth MacKenzie, Dept. Economics (Faculty Lecturer); and Dr. Paul Clarke, Dept. of Pharmacology and Therapeutics (Full Professor category).
Finally, Rhonda Amsel, Dept. of Psychology, was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Leadership in Learning.
But the day really belonged to the students. After Munroe-Blum invited the graduating students to stand up and applaud their friends and family who had supported them throughout their studies, she turned her attention back to them. “After all this hard work and all the sacrifices you have made it’s natural to regard today as a conclusion, a goal reached and a time for farewells,” she told the convocating students. “But today also marks the start of a new chapter in your lives.
“As you cross the stage today, graduates, you join the ranks of McGill alumni including Nobel laureates, Rhodes Scholars, Olympic medalists, astronauts and architects, poets, Prime Ministers and Senators… and individuals who have led their lives with quiet dedication to community work and family,” continued Munroe Blum.
“The history of McGill is thus the history of remarkable people who have pushed for progress – people just like you,” said Munroe-Blum. “As you leave here later today know that you will carry the good name of McGill everywhere you go and as you do please represent us well.”