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Niagara College’s top grads to receive prestigious Governor General Academic Medals at Spring Convocation

Two outstanding graduates, an inspiring Niagara College employee and alumna, and a passionate lifelong learner and healthcare professional, will be celebrated at NC's Spring Convocation ceremonies for achieving the highest overall grade-point averages (GPA) among the Spring Class of 2024.

Becky Sciliberto of Welland, who achieved a 94% average in the Honours Bachelor of Business Administration - International Commerce and Global Development program, and Julianna Pennings of St. Catharines, who achieved a 98% average in the Recreation Therapy program, are this year's recipients of the prestigious academic medals awarded by the Governor General of Canada. Both are mature students who returned to school to pursue personal and professional growth, showcasing remarkable determination and perseverance as they balanced their studies, careers, and family life.

For nearly 150 years, the Governor General's Academic Medals have recognized the outstanding scholastic achievements of students in Canada. They are awarded to the student graduating with the highest average from a high school, as well as from approved college or university programs. Today, the Governor General's Academic Medals 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.

Sciliberto and Pennings will each receive their medals during NC's Spring 2024 Convocation and will deliver speeches at their respective ceremonies.

Governor General's Silver Academic Medal: Becky Sciliberto

NC alumna and employee Becky Sciliberto will be honoured at the College's June 13 morning ceremony (10 a.m.), where she will receive the Silver Governor General's Academic Medal for her exceptional academic achievement in the Honours Bachelor of Business Administration - International Commerce and Global Development program.

Sciliberto made the courageous decision to return to school thirteen years after graduating from NC's Advanced Diploma in Business Administration - Accounting program in 2007. She regretfully missed her first convocation ceremony, and the prospect of making up for this missed milestone has been the driving force throughout her academic journey.

"I'm deeply grateful to celebrate this significant achievement with not only my family, but also my esteemed colleagues and fellow alumni," said Sciliberto. "The support I’ve received makes this moment feel surreal, and I don't take it for granted."

During her studies, Sciliberto was motivated not by a desire to be the best student, but by her personal commitment to excelling academically at a degree level and advancing her professional capabilities as an NC employee. She skillfully balanced the demands of her studies, a full-time job, volunteer work, and family life, serving as an inspiring role model within the College community.

“Returning to school as a mature student was difficult as my learning style shifted from when I was younger," said Sciliberto. "I had to teach myself to be patient and navigate self-doubt. Despite these hurdles, I am so grateful for my courage and vulnerability that allowed me to persevere and earn my degree--a milestone that makes me incredibly proud.”

Sciliberto is currently the Manager of Global Compliance and Reporting at NC. She first joined the College professionally in 2011, where she has since taken on various roles in finance, compliance, and strategic development. She looks forward to further applying the knowledge gained from her degree to enhancing her contributions to the College.

A passionate advocate for community service, Sciliberto also actively volunteers her time in the Niagara community. She co-founded the PIEce on Earth Project, which funds festive gift baskets for local families in need during the holidays, and volunteers with United Way Niagara. She has also served on Niagara College's President's Advisory College Council and as the Support Staff representative on the College's Board of Governors.

"On behalf of NC faculty, I would like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to Becky and express how proud we all are of her," said James Boesch, Associate Dean, School of Business and Management Studies, Niagara College. "Beyond Becky's impressive academic performance, she is a shining example of how students can be inquisitive, ambitious, engaging, and hard working, both in the classroom and in the community. Her work in non-profit management, helping our local United Way chapter, was a brilliant example of applied learning in action."

Last month, Sciliberto was honoured for her leadership and community engagement, earning Business Link Media Group's 40 Under Forty Business Achievement Award.

Governor General's Collegiate Bronze Academic Medal: Julianna Pennings

Julianna Pennings will be recognized for her outstanding academic performance in the Recreation Therapy program at the June 10 afternoon ceremony (3 p.m.), where she will receive the Collegiate Bronze Governor General's Academic Medal.

Originally from Bolton, Ontario, Pennings lived in Mexico as a teenager before returning to Canada to study nursing and graduated in 2001. After a decade in various nursing roles, including oncology, homecare, medicine, and multi-organ transplant units, she transitioned to entrepreneurship, co-founding a successful photography business.

In 2019, Pennings and her family moved to Niagara, where post-pandemic reflections re-ignited her passion for lifelong learning. Feeling motivated, she contacted NC in August 2022 to explore programs that aligned with her interests and skills, intending to start her studies the following year. To her surprise, she found herself in class just a week later. Pennings says her NC experience "felt like it was meant to be from the very start."

Pennings found barriers returning to the nursing field after such a long absence, and she wanted to pursue something that encompassed both her passion for holistic health and her many creative pursuits.

“I find joy in walking, painting, sewing, and various other mindful activities, and I see this career as a wonderful pathway to incorporate these activities therapeutically,” said Pennings. “I truly believe in the effectiveness of recreation therapy due its focus on holistic health, its person-centered approach, and strengths-based perspective. I see it as a crucial addition to healthcare in Canada.”

Balancing the demands of raising four children, two of whom are currently studying at NC, alongside working two part-time jobs, presented challenges and moments of self-doubt, but Pennings persevered. She hopes to be living proof that returning to school as a mature student is achievable and can lead to a transformative life experience. Pennings' mantra throughout her time at NC was, “I can do hard things," guiding her through every challenge and serving as a constant reminder of her resilience.

"Julianna's exceptional commitment to academic excellence is matched by her passion for the recreation therapy field," said Jaclyn Frail, Associate Dean, School of Community Services, Niagara College. "Beyond her coursework, Julianna has volunteered for numerous opportunities to showcase and promote the Recreation Therapy program and profession, reflecting her deep commitment to her chosen career path. We are very proud of what Julianna has accomplished during her time here and look forward to the great things she will accomplish in the field."

Pennings plans to advance her education and obtain a master's degree in counseling and psychotherapy. She is also currently pursuing a geriatric certificate to enhance her current role at the College, specifically in improving the delivery of the dementia simulation offered across various programs.

Niagara College Spring 2024 Convocation Ceremonies

Niagara College's Spring 2024 Convocation will take place from June 10 to June 15, celebrating a record number of 5,500 graduates across 12 ceremonies. Ceremonies will be held at the Welland Campus in the Simplii Financial Athletic Centre.

This year's ceremonies will also feature two distinguished guests, Wendy Wing and Dave Labbé. Wing, a prominent Niagara business leader, will receive an Honorary Bachelor of Applied Studies - Business Administration at the June 12 ceremony (3 p.m.), and Labbé, an NC alumnus and Indigenous Elder, will receive a Distinguished Alumni Award at the June 10 ceremony (3 p.m.).

To view the full schedule and list of programs graduating within each School, visit the 'Ceremony Schedule' section of Niagara College's Convocation website. All ceremonies will be livestreamed and available for later viewing.

For more information, visit

Niagara College has a full-time enrolment of more than 11,000 students from over 95 countries, who study in 130 diploma, certificate and bachelor degree programs at specialized campuses in Welland and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Niagara College is also involved in educational projects and partnerships around the world and is consistently ranked among Canada's top 10 colleges for research funding. Learn more at


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