ANTIGONISH – As St. Francis Xavier University bestowed more than 900 degrees to students from all corners of the globe on Sunday, March 5, honorary degrees were conferred upon a trailblazer in mental health and a religious order well-regarded for promoting the education of women.
The Congregation of Notre-Dame’s convent school became affiliated with StFX in 1894. In 1897, four young women received Bachelor of Arts degrees, making Mount Saint Bernard the first Catholic college in North America to initiate post-secondary degree programs for women.
"It is a distinguished honour to receive this on behalf of the congregation," said Sister Rebecca McKenna. “We believe this day is significant because we believe what we do in our lives truly matters.” Sister McKenna said the Congrégation expanded women’s education, offering opportunities to women before women had the right to vote in Nova Scotia, or were recognized as persons in Canada.
“Liberating education is a signature way of great work.” Sister McKenna told the graduating class to offer their hearts and minds to situations of neglect. “This is what the world desperately needs. What you do with your lives truly does matter. Godspeed on your journey."
Known for his major contributions to Canadian mental health, the Honourable Dr. Stanley Kutcher is a leading researcher in the causes and treatments of youth with major mental illnesses. “It is a privilege to receive this honour and I am humbled by it, to receive this honorary degree from StFX, an institution that has forged its reputation on the call to serve others,” said Dr. Kutcher as he addressed the graduating class of 2019. He left the graduates with two thoughts: “Choose the right partner and do not fear failure.” Dr. Kutcher encouraged students to look at failure as a stepping stone to success. He was recently appointed to the Senate of Canada.
StFX Chancellor John Peacock left the graduation class with some words of wisdom, “My hope is that in addition to whatever occupation you take up, you give thoughtful consideration on how you too can make a difference in society today.” Chancellor Peacock thanked StFX President Dr. Kent MacDonald for his leadership and contributions over the last five years to StFX, to a standing ovation from the large crowd. This was President Dr. MacDonald's last convocation.
Dr. Peter Henke and Dr. John Edwards were honoured as Professor Emeritus. Dr. Peter Henke served as a faculty member in StFX’s Psychology Department for 44 years. He came to StFX in 1972, joining a small group creating a more research focused department with an entirely new curriculum.
Dr. John Edwards joined the StFX Psychology Department in 1977. Throughout his career, he served with dedication and distinction, and established himself as an outstanding and prolific scholar. In 2000, he was elected into the Royal Society of Canada, the highest honour available to scholars in Canada.
StFX English professor Dr. Mathias Nilges received the 2019 President’s Research award.
Psychology professor Dr. Karen Blair received the Outstanding Teaching Award.
Education professors Dr. Chris Gilham Education and Dr. Jennifer Mitton-Kükner also received the Outstanding Teaching Award.