June 17, 2022
Class of 2022: Family and friends gather to honour Indigenous graduates
Dozens of new and recent graduates were honoured on June 4 as the University of Calgary’s Writing Symbols Lodge hosted its annual Indigenous Graduation Celebration. Held outdoors on campus, this event celebrated those who convocated in fall 2021 and spring 2022 with a special gifting ceremony.
“We were blessed with good weather as we honoured the graduates who attended,” says Writing Symbols Lodge manager Karen MacDonald. “Our president, chancellor, provost and other senior leaders, as well as many Elders, faculty and staff, were on hand to share in this celebration, and their presence was very much appreciated by the graduates.
"It is great that we can share our Indigenous culture while celebrating the achievements of the First Nation, Métis and non-status students with the Stoney Nakoda singers and the Denby Family Métis musicians.”
This year’s celebration was especially meaningful for MacDonald. As well as managing the event and supporting many of the graduates over the past years, she was also one of the 78 being honoured at the event, having received her own MBA degree from UCalgary earlier in 2022.
Local Elders played an important role in the celebration, providing the prayers, smudging and blessing of the gifts given to students. Elder Rod Hunter performed the University Honour Song he had gifted to UCalgary, which is also played at every convocation ceremony.
Graduates were gifted a traditional blanket, which signifies their achievement, wrapping them in the knowledge they have gained. The attending graduates also received a beaded medallion, created by Cree and Tsuut’ina artists. In addition, Métis students received Métis sashes, while Juris Doctor graduates received eagle feathers.
After several challenging years, this in-person event was an exciting opportunity for graduates to celebrate together with family and friends.
“I like how small and intimate the ceremony was — I felt very comfortable and happy there, and we all had opportunities to really shine and be honoured for our achievements,” says Patricia Petti, who graduated in fall 2021 with her Master of Education in educational psychology. Petti was as part of a Werklund School of Education partnership with the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre (MFNERC) that provides remote Indigenous communities with trained child psychologists.
“I was part of the MFNERC school psychology cohort and am now providing school psychology services to children on remote FN (First Nations) communities,” she says. “This graduation means I can begin to give culturally appropriate services to our own children. It’s a service that’s desperately needed, and I am honoured to be able to provide it.”
Ramsey Kunkel Photography
Three graduates were honoured with prestigious awards at event. Louise Doore, BSW'19, MSW'22, won the Olive Dickason Award, which recognizes the accomplishments of Indigenous students who exercise resilience in overcoming adverse life events to achieve success. Hailey Barrell, BSc'22, and Lucas Hale, BA'22, were each awarded the Royal Eagle Award, an annual award sponsored and presented by the RBC Foundation that recognizes academic excellence and community-based volunteerism or student leadership.
"Graduation was a deeply emotional and rewarding experience,” says Hale. “The years of support I received from Writing Symbols Lodge was integral to my success as a student, and the support of the Elders and fellow graduates on graduation day was positively overwhelming.”
ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being. Walking parallel paths together, "in a good way," UCalgary is moving toward genuine reconciliation and Indigenization.