Niagara College’s top graduate reaches for higher calling
St. Catharines resident Kariann Gracey earns prestigious Governor General Academic Medal
For Niagara College’s top graduating student Kariann Gracey, achievement is not just about making the grade – it’s about making a difference.
As the College prepares to celebrate Spring Convocation with five days of virtual ceremonies beginning June 15, the lifelong St. Catharines resident stands out as head of NC’s Class of 2020. On June 18, she will officially graduate from the Social Service Worker program with a 97.67% grade-point average and as the recipient of the most prestigious award a Canadian student can receive – the Governor General’s Academic Medal.
“Kariann is known by faculty for being outstanding – both as a student and as a person,” said Carolyn Triemstra, dean of Community and Health Studies. “Her exceptional performance during the two-year program demonstrates an extraordinary level of professional commitment in both academics and her program placements, and we know she will be a tremendous asset to the social services field.”
Gracey is driven by her passion for social work and her mission to advocate for society’s most vulnerable.
“The Governor General’s Academic Medal really just affirms for me that I am making the right steps toward my goals,” she said. “Achieving high grades is one small part in my pursuit to learn all the material I possibly can to better assist those who are disadvantaged or oppressed by systems in our society.”
Gracey has a history of strong academic achievement. In 2017, she was awarded the dean’s medal when she graduated from university with an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology.
“I’ve always had a fire to know I wanted better for myself and others,” she said. “I have a constant need to reinvent myself and take in knowledge.”
Gracey’s interest in social service stems from life experience. She noted how those close to her have struggled with grief, addiction, mental health, disabilities and health issues; and how she has personally experienced chronic mental health issues along with a tendency to push herself to the point of exhaustion.
“I have been a helper since I was a child and I know that the disadvantaged should have more people fighting for them, supporting them,” she said. “So, naturally, I went into social work.”
Prior to enrolling at the College, Gracey worked in the social services field at a local rehabilitation group home for people with brain injuries, and in harm reduction outreach for those with active addictions. Through her NC program placements, she gained valuable experience working with those experiencing emotional and behavioural difficulties at Pathstone Mental Health, and in addictions counselling at New Port Centre.
“Both of my supervisors and the staff from both agencies were incredibly supportive and helped me grow a great deal as a professional,” she said.
Gracey also had an opportunity to travel on a NC Be World Ready trip to Guatemala where she learned firsthand from health professionals and social workers who provide programs without government support.
“We can learn here in Canada that as long as you know there is a need, there is a way to coordinate and implement programs,” she said. “There is always a way.”
Since completing her studies, Gracey been putting the skills and knowledge she acquired at NC to work. She has begun training in a new job to support the safety and wellbeing of Niagara families and children.
“It is a very challenging job to do and it’s not for everyone, but the more I learn in training, the more excited I am to get out there,” she said.
Gracey also plans to pursue her master’s degree in social work and try her hand at clinical practice.
As she closes the chapter on her studies at NC, Gracey noted how she valued meeting like-minded people through the Social Service Worker program who are passionate about their work and their clients.
“These people have inspired me to keep moving forward,” she said.
Niagara College will celebrate its 5,000 spring graduates with its first-ever virtual convocation ceremonies from June 15-19. Visit the College’s Virtual Convocation site to view the schedule or to access the livestream ceremonies: niagaracollege.ca/virtualconvocation/.
For more than 140 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. Visit gg.ca.
Niagara College offers more than 130 diploma, bachelor degree and advanced level programs; as well as more than 600 credit, vocational and general interest Part-Time Studies courses. Areas of specialization include food and wine sciences, advanced technology, media, applied health and community safety, supported by unique learning enterprises in food, wine, beer, distilling, horticulture and esthetics. For more information visit niagaracollege.ca.