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Niagara College kicks off week of Spring Convocation ceremonies

More than 800 graduates were ushered into Niagara College’s alumni community, June 10, as students from the Schools of Justice and Fitness, Allied Health and Community Services were presented with their diplomas on the first of six days of convocation ceremonies at the Welland Campus.

It was a day of reflection – to celebrate the triumphs and successes that culminate in convocation, and the struggles, the challenges and the determination needed to get there, said Niagara College President Sean Kennedy in his address to the Class of 2024.

“This ceremony is part of your individual story – your NC story – and a celebration of what you’ve accomplished and the excitement of possibilities and dreams that lie ahead,” Kennedy said. “This ceremony is about looking back on where you’ve come from. It’s about being present in this moment to feel the groundswell of pride from your supporters and champions, and to feel proud of yourself.

“This spirit of celebration is one I hope you will carry with you for the rest of your lives.”

A highlight of the day was the presentation of the first of two prestigious Governor General’s Academic medals, awarded to the graduating student who achieved the highest overall grade-point average from a diploma program.

For nearly 150 years, the Governor General’s Academic Medals have recognized the outstanding scholastic achievements of students in Canada. They are awarded at four distinct levels: Bronze at the secondary school level; Collegiate Bronze at the post-secondary, diploma level; Silver at the undergraduate level; and Gold at the graduate level.

Recreation Therapy graduate Julianna Pennings was presented with the Governor General’s Collegiate Bronze Academic Medal.

This year’s Collegiate Bronze medal recipient was Julianna Pennings, a mature student who achieved a 98 percent average in the Recreation Therapy Program while balancing her studies, career and family life.

A former nurse, Pennings returned to school in Fall 2022 to follow a path that would combine her previous health care experience with her creative pursuits.

Addressing her fellow graduates during the afternoon ceremony, Pennings thanked them for their companionship, their kindness and their friendliness as she faced uncertainty while looking to start a new chapter in life.

“Your support has meant the world to me,” she said. “You have all become so much more than the unfamiliar faces I saw on day one. We have all worked so hard, celebrated each other’s wins, and experienced our own personal challenges and barriers to reach this moment of graduation. For that, I couldn’t be prouder of us.”

Pennings also received the Dean’s Award for the School of Community Services for scoring the highest GPA within her school of study. Paramedic graduate Cassenya Detmar and Community and Justice Services graduate Makayla Fairbanks were also presented with Dean’s Awards for finishing at the top of the class in the Schools of Allied Health and Justice and Fitness, respectively.

This year’s Distinguished Alumni Award was also presented during the afternoon ceremony to Dave Labbé, a member of the Innu from Northern Quebec, who was part of the inaugural class of students at Niagara College in 1967.

Labbé graduated from the Electronic Engineering Technology Program in 1971 and returned to the College as an Elder after his retirement, drawing on his own education to impart knowledge in a way that mirrors the unique learning he experienced as an NC student.

Dean’s Academic Award Winner Makayla Fairbanks (right) and Carol Phillps, Dean, School of Community Services, Justice and Fitness Studies.

He recalled his early days at Niagara College when he was frustrated with his academic performance and wanted to leave. He met a physics professor told him why he shouldn’t quit and reminded him that greatness doesn’t come from within; it comes from the people who surround you and support you.

“You’ve got so many people – sitting beside you, behind you, people here in the room, people not here at all tonight because they couldn’t be. I’ve kept that with me and that’s been my way of looking at things: I’m never alone,” Labbé said after being presented with the Distinguished Alumni Award and a piece of specially crafted Indigenous beadwork.

“This culmination is like a full circle for me. It’s brought me back to where I really need to be. Like the goose that forgot how to fly, hitching a ride to get home after 20 years. (He) ends up back where the egg was. This is where my egg was. This is where I actually got life.

“I envy you right now,” he continued. “You’re still sitting in a seat in an institution that brought you not only understanding of yourself, but enlightenment of the world. You people graduating now, you’re a part of my family. I see you that way. You’ve gone through a different kind of life. When you came here, you were a different person. I know none of you are the same person now, because that’s what happened to me…and I thank you for carrying on that tradition.”

Dean’s Academic Award winner Cassenya Detmar (right) and Sinéad McElhone, Dean, Health Sciences.

Labbé’s remarks were followed by a performance by The Strong Water Singers entitled “The Longest Walk.” The local Indigenous-led women’s drum group also drummed as graduates entered the gymnasium at the start of both ceremonies.

Later in the week, NC will also bestow special honours to Wendy Wing, the Senior Vice-President of Finance and Administration at Rankin Construction Inc. and Port Colborne Quarries Inc., as well as President of Ranking Renewable Power Inc. Wing will be presented with an Honorary Bachelor of Applied Studies – Business Administration at the 3 p.m. ceremony on June 12, which celebrates new graduates from the College’s School of Technology and Trades.

By the time the College concludes its convocation week on June 15 – each ceremony honouring graduating students from different areas of study – NC will gain 5,500 new graduates.

In addition to the two held on June 10, convocation ceremonies will take place at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily from June 11 to June 15. All Spring Convocation ceremonies will be livestreamed from the Simplii Financial Athletic Centre at Welland Campus. To view the schedule and a list of programs graduating within each School – or to watch the livestream of any ceremony – visit NC’s Convocation website.