You did it, alumni! Thank you for your inspiration

Mount Royal celebrates its largest-ever graduating class at Spring 2021 Convocation


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Spring Convocation 2021 started off with excellent news that can only be attributed to an extraordinary graduating class that has shown incredible determination and resilience during a year like no other. Mount Royal tallied a total of 1,937 eligible graduates, which beats the University’s previous highest total by more than 200. Out of the University’s largest graduating class to date, 638 new alumni registered to attend Mount Royal’s unique drive-in convocation ceremonies, the only one of its kind in Alberta.

Mount Royal University has contributed to a vibrant city and a vibrant province for more than 100 years. Over the course of four days, eight ceremonies took place to introduce the new grads to their community of more than 110,000 other MRU alumni around the world. As is usual, the Highland Pipers led the (smaller-than-usual) platform procession, representative faculty members were decked out in their alma mater’s regalia, the University’s elders provided a blessing for the graduates, and Honorary Doctors of Laws were bestowed.

Attendees listened to the proceedings on their car radios, tapping their horns in applause and accompanied by the family members and friends who supported them throughout their journey.

President and Vice-Chancellor Tim Rahilly, PhD, said, “Class of the spring of 2021, you are truly remarkable. Not only did you fill the requirements of your chosen discipline, but you did it during a pandemic. You are persistent and you are resilient. And today we celebrate that.”

For Rahilly, the pandemic reinforced three key qualities that cause people to flourish in changing times. One is to be a critical thinker, making one more adaptable and solution-orientated. The second is to have a positive attitude, to embrace each other and the world with enthusiasm and optimism. The last is to always take care of yourself, of your physical and mental well-being, and to speak to yourself with kindness and compassion.

After reciting Mount Royal’s traditional territorial lands acknowledgement, Chancellor Dawn Farrell recognized the tragic discovery of the 215 children whose remains were recently found at the site of a former residential school. “Our hearts break for them, their families and communities, residential school survivors and all Indigenous Peoples. The truth for these children and for others must be sought and acknowledged.”

Flags are remaining at half-mast throughout convocation week and Iniskim Centre staff wore orange to commemorate the victims. Two hundred “Every Child Matters” buttons were purchased to distribute as well.

Symbolic in its intent, the ceremonies were a sign of Mount Royal’s dedication to its students, former and current, as they will be creating a new foundation for society and its values. After officially calling for convocation to be assembled for the granting of degrees, Farrell said graduates should feel confident in their education knowing they completed their studies at an institution with faculty and staff completely dedicated to their learning.

“You are ready to be full participants in your lives. You’re all ready to make a big difference in this world.”

In addition to feeling confident, graduates should also feel fortunate, Farrell said. “You are among the most educated and privileged people on this planet. Never forget that. We are so lucky to live in a country, and a province and a city, that is passionate about education, and that lays a path to support those who are willing to show up and who are willing to do the hard work.”

As we have all benefited from the education system, we must all continue to advocate for its continued funding, Farrell said. Education builds strong and innovative individuals, who contribute to strong and innovative societies.

Before each ceremony formally began, faculty and staff provided video greetings to the graduates in their programs whom they have not had the pleasure of seeing in person for more than a year.

Spirit River Striped Wolf, president of the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University, said, “You will become the creators of what a ‘new normal’ will look like in a post-pandemic world. I was your student president during this upheaval in our lives, and I’m honored to have weathered this storm beside you. On behalf of all MRU students, congratulations class of 2021.”

As each ceremony concluded, another video featuring words of congratulations and pride from notable luminaries and former honorary degree recipients was played. Bret Hart, Paul Brandt, Kelly Hrudey, Cassie Campbell Pascall, Don Braid, Mark Tewksbury and Todd Hirsch all sent their very best to the grads.

“Congratulations. Your graduating class has been afforded the chance to truly do something unique and novel, something no other group has done, because, of course, all of us have unique gifts, abilities, tendencies and talents. Congratulations, and may you make a mark on the world as unique as each person here in this together,” Brandt said.



Program and ceremony videos

The complete Spring 2021 Convocation ceremonies program details those in attendance and the graduation tradition at Mount Royal.

VIDEO: Monday, June 7 at 9 a.m.
Bachelor of Business Administration ― General Management and Human Resources
Post-Bachelor's Certificate — Human Resources

VIDEO: Monday, June 7 at 1 p.m.
Bachelor of Business Administration ― Accounting and Finance
Post-Bachelor's Certificate — Advanced Accounting

VIDEO: Monday, June 7 at 4:30 p.m.
Bachelor of Business Administration ― International Business, Marketing and Supply Chain Management
Bachelor of Communication
Post-Bachelor's Certificate — Marketing
Aviation Diploma

VIDEO: Tuesday, June 8 at 10 a.m.
Bachelor of Child Studies
Bachelor of Education
Bachelor of Health and Physical Education
Social Work Diploma
Post-Bachelor's Certificate ― Athletic Therapy

VIDEO: Tuesday, June 8 at 2 p.m.
Bachelor of Midwifery
Bachelor of Nursing
Post-Diploma Certificate — Advanced Studies in Critical Care Nursing

VIDEO: Wednesday, June 9 at 10 a.m.
Bachelor of Arts ― Anthropology, Psychology and Sociology majors

VIDEO: Wednesday, June 9 at 2 p.m.
Bachelor of Arts ― Criminal Justice
Bachelor of Arts ― English, History, Policy Studies, Spanish
Bachelor of Interior Design

VIDEO: Thursday, June 10 at 10 a.m.
Bachelor of Computer Information Systems
Bachelor of Science
Funeral Service Diploma
Massage Therapy Diploma
Personal Fitness Diploma
Embalmer Certificate
Funeral Director Certificate

Honorary Doctor of Laws recipients

Honorary degrees date back to the middle ages and are the highest symbol of recognition Mount Royal can give to individuals in the community. Four recipients addressed graduates and guests at separate ceremonies.

Hal Kvisle addresses Spring 2021 graduates.

Change leader and long-time energy industry executive Hal Kvisle helped lead Mount Royal through its transition to a university as chair of its Board of Governors. 

Hal Kvisle, leader in the energy sector and a long-time advocate for education, received an Honorary Doctor of Laws on June 7.

For more than 35 years Kvisle has been a leader in the oil and gas, utilities and power generation industries. Kvisle began his engineering and operations career with Dome Petroleum, where he later played a key role in selling the company to Amoco Canada. He was the founder and president of Fletcher Challenge Energy Canada, leading new energy ventures in Venezuela, Argentina and Mexico.

When TransCanada PipeLines merged with NOVA Corp., Kvisle joined as executive vice-president of trading and business development. Rising to become president and chief executive officer, Kvisle invested in pipelines, coal and gas-fired power plants, nuclear generation, wind farms and natural gas storage facilities in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. From 2012 to 2015, he was president and chief executive officer of Talisman Energy. Kvisle currently serves as board chair of ARC Resources and Finning International and a board member of Cenovus Energy.

Passionate about education, Kvisle joined the Mount Royal College Board of Governors in 2001 as vice-chair and served as board chair from 2002 until 2007, preparing Mount Royal for its evolution from a college to a degree-granting university. He was awarded an Honorary Bachelor of Arts from Mount Royal University in 2009.

During the ceremony, Kvisle expressed his thanks for the honour, especially in front of graduates from the Faculty of Business and Communication Studies. The Bissett School of Business was the first building completed when Kvisle was chair of Mount Royal’s Board of Governors, so it was fitting he was able to address students who spent the majority of their time at MRU in its halls.

“This is a great day, not only for you, but also for those of us who have been associated with the institution over the years. It demonstrates once again how important Mount Royal University is to the community of Calgary and of Alberta.”

Kvisle went on to say how meaningful and rewarding it is to him to see how the campus has continued to evolve.

To the graduates, Kvisle had words of encouragement coming from experience. “I know that today is an unsettled time for many reasons, not just the pandemic. I know that the economy of Alberta has been hit relatively hard. But we are not down and out. We are prospering more today than we were a year ago, and I think we will continue to see that.”

There remains a future in the oil and gas industry in Alberta, Kvisle believes, as well as great opportunities in the agriculture sector on both the production and processing sides. The technology sector, as it grows and develops in the city and the province, is also presenting favourable circumstances for the new alumni.

In addition to his new Honorary Doctor of Laws, Kvisle also holds a bachelor of science in engineering with distinction from the University of Alberta and a master’s in business administration from the University of Calgary. He was named Canada’s Outstanding CEO of the Year in 2008 and is a member of the Alberta Business and Canadian Petroleum Halls of Fame.

As a farewell to those in attendance, Kvisle said, “I’d like to just offer my heartfelt congratulations to all of you, and my very best wishes for the future. Good on you.”

Read more about Hal Kvisle, his long history with Mount Royal and his words for graduates.

Clarence Wolfleg Senior (Elder Miiksika’am) addresses Spring 2021 graduates.

Elder Miiksika’am, Mount Royal's Indiginous spiritual leader and advocate, told the graduates, “Take the good things of yesterday and put them with the good things of today for a better tomorrow. There are many more tomorrows.”

Clarence Wolfleg Senior (Elder Miiksika’am), residential school survivor, spiritual elder adviser to national provincial and local organizations, including MRU, received an Honorary Doctor of Laws on June 8.

Elder Miiksika’am has given back to the community in many capacities: serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, being an integral part of the justice system, contributing to outreach programs, providing leadership on the Siksika Nation Council and currently acting as a spiritual and elder adviser to national, provincial and local organizations.

From the Siksika Nation, his traditional name “Miiksika’am” translates to “Red Crane” in Blackfoot. At the Old Sun Indian Residential School in 1955, which he calls “that place,” he was given the name “Clarence Wolfleg,” but today he is Elder Miiksika’am. Many have benefitted from his tutelage and his leadership.

During the ceremony, Miiksika’am told a story of a promise he made to his fellow students at “that place,” whispered one evening in their forbidden language. When he left the school, he would be a soldier like his father, a decorated Second World War veteran. And when he returned from that mission, he would become a steward for his people and their traditional ways of knowing. He did both, participating in UN peacekeeping initiatives in Cypress and in NATO European missions during the Cold War.

Striving despite of opposition and the environment at the time, calling on the Creator to guide him, Miiksika’am followed the path and became a spiritual leader, a process he says took 29 years in total.

“Today, I have also reached the pinnacle of the academic institution of learning,” he said.

Nationally, Miiksika’am has provided guidance at Mental Health Canada and Veterans Affairs Canada, including the Centre of Excellence for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. On a regional level, he served on the Treaty 7 Tribal Council and the Siksika Nation’s Horn and Brave Dog Societies. Locally, Miiksika’am has been a trusted adviser at the Calgary Public Library, Bow Valley College, Heritage Park and Mount Royal University. He served 10 terms as a member of the Siksika Nation Council, with portfolios including land claims negotiations, intergovernmental affairs, policing and child welfare. Before serving on the Council, Miiksika’am led outpatient community programs for Siksika Alcohol Services, acted as a case management officer for Correctional Services of Canada and was a communications officer for the Blackfoot Cultural Studies at Old Sun Community College.

Miiksiksa’am recently lost his life partner and wife, who was also an esteemed educator and who he believed was standing right beside him. He dedicated the day to her memory.

In 2016 Elder Miiksika’am was presented an honorary Bachelor of Arts — Sociology from Mount Royal University.

“I don’t call Mount Royal ‘that place,’ like residential school. I call this place my home. I call everybody that’s here my family. Graduates, you have had many challenges, many sacrifices that you have made to reach this beautiful day for you. Continue to strive, continue to listen to those people who have love in their heart for you.

“Take the good things of yesterday and put them with the good things of today for a better tomorrow. There are many more tomorrows.”

Read more about Elder Miiksika’am, the lasting impact of the residential school system, his advocacy for education and his powerful influence on MRU.

Louise Bernice Halfe (Sky Dancer) addresses Spring 2021 graduates via video.

Canada's Parliamentary Poet Laureate Louise Bernice Halfe (Sky Dancer) read a poem from one of her collections depicting the difficulties of the residential school system and the effect it had on her life, and her family's. 

Louise Bernice Halfe (Sky Dancer), an award-winning writer and Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate who testifies to the Indigenous experience, received an Honorary Doctor of Laws on June 9.

Halfe has shared a powerful testimony to the ongoing Indigenous experience of colonialism, along with the strong resilience of Indigenous storytellers. Born in Two Hills, AB, her Cree name is “Sky Dancer.” Halfe was raised on the Saddle Lake Indian Reserve and attended Blue Quills Residential School. She currently is an elder with the University of Saskatchewan and an organization called Opikinawasowin (“raising our children”).

Making her debut as a poet in Writing the Circle: Native Women of Western Canada, an acclaimed anthology of life-writings by Indigenous women, Halfe has also published five collections. Bear Bones and Feathers was a winner of the Canadian People’s Poet Award and a finalist for the Spirit of Saskatchewan Award. Blue Marrow was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, Pat Lowther Award and Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award.

Halfe delivered her remarks to the Bachelor of Arts graduates via video as she was unable to attend the ceremony in person, reading a poem called “Returning” from Bear Bones and Feathers. It is a heart-wrenching account of her time at Blue Quills, which she describes in the poem as an “assault.”

“That’s what it was, refined under the rule of reading, writing and arithmetic.”

She spent six years at the institution under the constant gaze of hardened priests, who she describes in the poem as a “god that had the eyes of a roving fly.” Each morning she prayed for “Jesus to save my soul,” struggling with “shame,” always worried her “sins” would send her to purgatory forever, and all the while missing her family desperately, not fully understanding why she wasn’t with them. As Halfe’s parents were also products of the residential school system, the poem portrays their brokenness, their inability to express their pride in their children and their angry suspicion and watchfulness.

It took Halfe many years to unlock the memories of her time at residential school and a confusing childhood of conflict, she said. Burning in this Midnight Dream details Halfe’s response to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation process and how the experiences of residential school children haunt those who survive and affect multiple generations. The book won three Saskatchewan Book Awards and the League of Canadian Poets Raymond Souster Award. A collection of her work, Sohkeyihta, contains poems written across the expanse of her career.

Halfe is now serving a two-year appointment as the National Parliamentary Poet Laureate for Canada. She earned her Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Regina and certificates in addiction counselling from the Nechi Institute and holds honorary degrees from Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Saskatchewan.

“That has been a journey of self-determination, of reconciliation, and the ability to move forward with perseverance, endurance and courage. And that is what I wish for all the students,” she said. “Thank you so much. I am so honoured. Ay hay."

Read more about how writing helped Sky Dancer find strength and the need for “fierce determination” in life.

Christine Silverberg addresses Spring 2021 graduates.

Former Calgary police chief and lawyer Christine Silverberg told the graduates to remain true to their values, to not let anyone else define them and to always keep learning. 

Christine Silverberg, former Calgary chief of police (the first woman in Canada to hold such a post), and now head of SilverbergLegal, received an Honorary Doctor of Laws on June 9.

Christine Silverberg’s 30-year career in corrections, policing and government culminated in 1995 with her appointment as chief of police of the Calgary Police Service, becoming the first female chief in a major Canadian city. Her drive for excellence continued with a legal career that now sees her representing diverse clients in civil litigation and advocacy, administrative law and high-conflict family law at SilverbergLegal.

She has received multiple awards, honours and distinctions for the impact she has had, including recognition for her accomplishments in multi-racial, multicultural and Indigenous communities and as an advocate for women’s rights.

Silverberg received her honorary doctorate in front of new alumni from Mount Royal’s Faculty of Arts. To graduate during a year of massive changes takes a lot of “stick-to-it-iveness,” Silverberg said, and that the upheaval in the world means that there are still rough waters ahead for even the most prepared graduates.

“Many of us today feel this life must be a test, but as new graduates, you have an ace up your sleeves. You are graduating from an institution that values and cultivates an entrepreneurial spirit and has a strong commitment to embracing Indigenous knowledge, teaching and practices and is renowned for its outstanding performing arts facility.”

Each Mount Royal graduate has developed the “grit and the skills” needed to change and adapt, and the resilience to “survive and to thrive despite the hurdles.”

Throughout Silverberg’s own career, she said she has had to embody the qualities of tenacity, doggedness, fortitude and perseverance, and she has been asked as to what it is about her that allows her to continue to push through in the face of obstacles or challenges.

“I think ultimately, it is a belief in oneself, a self-respect which averts exploitation and manipulation. And the ‘rubber hits the road,’ so to speak, on one unassailable characteristic. Success is born from principles and practices that reflect our values, which must never be compromised.”

Silverberg moved on to tell the graduates to never doubt their limits, and to know that adversity is not forever.

“It’s so essential to garner the personal strength to honestly face your critics, to reach deep within and to move beyond. Don’t let other people’s characterizations of who you are, and what you do, and what you are capable of, demoralize or pigeonhole you. Know and be true to yourself.”

Silverberg also holds a Bachelor of Arts from Glendon College, York University (political science), a Master of Arts from the University of Toronto (criminology), an LL.B. (law) from the University of Calgary. She has certifications in policing operations, management and leadership from Ontario and Canadian police colleges, the University of Western Ontario and the National Executive Institute of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. She is a graduate of the Executive Program, School of Business, Queen’s University and is accredited as a Public Relations Professional by York University and the Canadian Public Relations Society.

She advised the students to not stop now, to always understand the importance of continuous learning. Keep going and keep working hard, she said. “It is worth every second.”

Read more about Silverberg’s advice for creating social change, the importance of continuous learning and her three fridge magnets.

Centennial Gold Medal recipients

The Centennial Gold Medal award is patterned after the Henry Birks and Sons Gold Medal, which was Mount Royal’s highest award for student academic achievement from 1935 to 1985. The medal commemorates a deep tradition of academic achievement and leadership at Mount Royal. Any student, staff or faculty member can nominate an eligible student, who must have a cumulative GPA of 3.7 or higher and demonstrate leadership through involvement in campus and community activities.

Ashlee Macken-Rocliffe.

Ashlee Macken-Rocliffe graduated with a Bachelor of Nursing and is already working in the field. 

Ashlee Macken-Rocliffe graduated with a Bachelor of Nursing and was selected as the 2021 Centennial Gold Medal Recipient for the Faculty of Health, Community and Education. She says she will never forget the study marathons with her friends in the Riddell Library and Learning Centre or the biology study lab in B-Wing.

Outside of the classroom, Macken-Rocliffe was treasurer of the improvisation club, a learning peer, a student success ambassador and a volunteer at New Student Orientation.

After earning a cumulative GPA of 3.88, Macken-Rocliffe is employed as a nurse in three different addictions and corrections centres and plans to obtain a master’s at the University of Alberta.

Daniel Major.

Daniel Major graduated with a Bachelor of Science ― Cellular and Molecular biology and is off to med school.

Daniel Major is a new alumni of the Bachelor of Science ― Cellular and Molecular Biology major and was chosen as the 2021 Centennial Gold Medal Recipient for the Faculty of Science and Technology. Major’s best memory dates back to when he started at Mount Royal and Cheryl Melatdoost, an academic advisor, took the extra time to help guide him.

As a student, Major took part in the Catamount Fellowship program; served on committees on equity, diversity and inclusion and suicide prevention; was a peer mentor on learning and mental health; served as student governor and a leader at New Student Orientation and registration; and was also a research assistant.

Major has already been accepted into the medical doctor program at the University of Alberta, leaving Mount Royal with a cumulative GPA of 3.88.

Orest Ndabaneze.

Orest Ndabaneze graduated with a Bachelor of Arts ― Sociology and will be moving on to a master's degree. 

Orest Ndabaneze graduated with a Bachelor of Arts — Sociology and represents the Faculty of Arts as its 2021 Centennial Gold Medal Recipient.

Ndabaneze is one of Cougar Athletics’ most decorated varsity athletes, making his mark as a creative and talented soccer forward. He was also part of Power2Change, the Department of Sociology and Anthropology’s anti-racism group, the President’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee and the We Are the Cougars’ podcast series. He has frequently been a guest speaker on the topic of racism at MRU.

After having earned a cumulative GPA of 3.72, Ndabaneze intends to complete his master’s in business administration at the University of Fredericton.

McKayla Saint-Cyr.

McKayla Saint-Cyr graduated with a Bachelor of Communication ― Public Relations and is looking forward to what is next.

McKayla Saint-Cyr graduated with a Bachelor of Communication — Public Relations and was selected as the 2021 Centennial Gold Medal Recipient for the Faculty of Business and Communication Studies.

Saint-Cyr considers herself lucky to have met so many incredible people at MRU, knowing that when she walked into the communications lounge she always would run into a friend. On campus, Saint-Cyr was a peer mentor with MAPS (Mentors for Academic and Personal success), a peer health educator, and volunteered at new student registration and orientation.

Also graduating with minors in accounting and finance, Saint-Cyr leaves Mount Royal with a cumulative GPA of 3.96 and an open mind, looking forward to all the opportunities her degree will provide.

Governor General’s Academic Medal recipients

The Governor General’s Academic Medal, established in 1873, is one of the most prestigious awards that can be earned by a student in a Canadian educational institution. On behalf of His Excellency the Right Honourable Richard Wagner, P.C., administrator of the Government of Canada, Mount Royal University is pleased to congratulate Alixx Hettinga and Jean-Nils Sjoblomn for their outstanding achievements. Students graduating with the highest average from their respective schools receive the prestigious medals.

The award is given at the following four levels: bronze for secondary students, collegiate bronze for post-secondary students registered in a diploma program, silver for undergraduate students and gold for graduate students.

Silver medal recipient (degree)

Alixx Hettinga was awarded the Silver Medal for achieving the highest academic standing of all graduates in a degree program. Hettinga graduated with a Bachelor of Communication — Public Relations and has a cumulative GPA of 4.00.

Bronze medal recipient (diploma)

Jean-Nils Sjoblom was awarded the Bronze Medal for achieving the highest academic standing of all graduates in a diploma program. Sjoblom graduates with an Aviation Diploma and has a cumulative GPA of 4.00.

Indigenous graduation ceremonies

Four Indigenous graduation ceremonies were also held throughout convocation week, where graduating First Nation, Métis, Inuit and non-status Indigenous students received a blessing from a campus Elder and a gift of either a medicine bag or a blanket.

In a video greeting, Dr. Linda Many Guns, PhD, associate vice-president of indigenization and decolonization congratulated the new alumni for setting a goal and achieving it.

“Within Mount Royal, we are learning to bind together Indigenous knowledge and the knowledges that are taught within the institution to blend them to create a sustainable world.

“Graduates, we need you to go forward with the transformative power of Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing to once more help shape the world in a way that we can all go forward together.”

Congratulations alumni, and remember that you always belong here. Please stay in touch through Mount Royal’s alumni department.

June 10, 2021 — Michelle Bodnar

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