“The opportunity to be the helper, and to be the helped, lies in each and every one of us.”
These inspiring words to Niagara College’s Class of 2020 came from six-time Olympic medalist and mental health advocate Clara Hughes, guest speaker for NC’s week of Virtual Convocation ceremonies and the recipient of an Honorary Diploma in Health Studies.
On June 17, her message resonated deeply as the College celebrated 1,185 new graduates – most from Community and Health Studies, who plan to dedicate their careers to helping others.
“Remember, it’s not about what you gain, what you earn, what you have, what title you have, what status you get to. It is about how you connect with others, how you give back, how you lift up,” said Hughes. “It’s about realizing that, although we may seem different, we are all the same.”
NC president Sean Kennedy spoke of the important role that many of the day’s graduates will have in their fields and communities. The College celebrated 610 new graduates from the School of Nursing and Personal Support Worker Studies during the morning ceremony; and 585 from the schools of Allied Health, Community Services; Nursing and Personal Support Worker Studies; and Academic, Liberal and Access Studies during the afternoon.
“In the face of Covid-19, the critical skills of many of our graduands, who are dedicating their careers to providing care for others, are as vital as ever,” he said. “Many are already working to make a difference in fields, such as practical nursing, personal support worker, social service worker, and more.”
Two new graduates, who were announced as recipients of special awards during the afternoon ceremony, are already living their dreams of helping those around them.
Kariann Gracey, who graduated from the Social Service Worker program with a 97.67 percent GPA – the highest among all graduating students at the College – was awarded the prestigious Governor General’s Academic Medal as well as Dean’s Award from the School of Community Services. The lifelong St. Catharines resident’s outstanding academic achievement is driven by her passion for social work and her mission to advocate for society’s most vulnerable.
“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,” said Gracey. “So, naturally, I went into social work.”
Since completing her studies, Gracey has been training in a job to support the safety and wellbeing of Niagara families and children. [View June 12 news release here.]
Dean’s Award winner from NC’s School of Nursing and Personal Support Worker Antonia Johnston graduated from Practical Nursing – Alternative Delivery with a 92.35 percent GPA. The 40-year-old Hamilton resident enrolled at NC as a second career student, hoping to pursue her goal of becoming a nurse, with an interest in mental health and cosmetic nursing – and she achieved both. Johnston has been working at St. Catharines General hospital on an acute mental health floor, as well as full-time as a cosmetic nurse at a clinic.
“I am truly living my dream,” she said.
During her time at NC, Johnston worked as a personal support worker doing home care and as a peer tutor for several semesters. A highlight of her NC experience was travelling on a nursing mission trip to Ecuador through NC’s Be World Ready program.
“I feel so blessed to have been able to do that and plan to do it again,” she said.
Welcoming grads to alumni community
The new graduates were welcomed into a network of more than 95,000 NC alumni from around the world. Several alumni who have been working in the health fields were featured in a video played during the ceremonies.
“Being on the front lines, you’re with people at their most vulnerable. It commands your compassion, strength and perseverance,” said Kevin Smith, chief of Niagara Emergency Medical Services who graduated from Ambulance and Emergency Care in 1992.
“Every day I wake up, I’m reminded of just how important nursing is. I wake up and know that I’m making a difference,” said Agatha Peach, who graduated from Practical Nursing in 2019 and works as a practical nurse at Greater Niagara General Hospital.
“Caring for people when they need it most is a privilege. Especially when they can’t see their families right now. We become their family,” said Carlie Everitt, who graduated from the Personal Support Worker program in 2014 and now works for the March of Dimes.
“Dental health is important but equally as important is giving back and volunteering in my community. That’s the real important work we do,” said Susanne Hutchings, founder/owner of Dental Hygiene Team who graduated from NC’s Dental Hygiene program in 1984.
2020 Virtual Convocation ceremonies
More than 5,000 students will graduate from Niagara College during its Virtual Spring Convocation Ceremonies, which began on June 15 and will continue twice a day – at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. – up to and including June 19.
The 10 live, interactive ceremonies offer graduates a chance to connect with their classmates via Zoom parties held alongside the formal ceremonies, as well as an opportunity to smile and cheer on-screen during the live broadcast after graduate names are called out from their program areas.
Numerous video well wishes from faculty, staff, administrators and alumni are played during the ceremonies, as well as greetings from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano, and Niagara regional chair Jim Bradley.
The virtual ceremonies have been drawing thousands of viewers from around the world – with 17,515 viewers from 63 countries on July 15, 11,732 viewers from 44 countries on July 16, and 9,589 views from 42 countries on July 17.
Visit the College’s Virtual Convocation site to view the schedule or to access the livestream ceremonies at niagaracollege.ca/virtualconvocation/.
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.
Clara Hughes: A screenshot of Clara Hughes addressing Niagara College’s Class of 2020 during a Virtual Convocation ceremony.
ECE Zoom: Early Childhood Education graduates cheer from their Zoom party, captured on the ceremony livestream on the afternoon of June 18.
Kariann Gracey: Lifelong St. Catharines resident Kariann Gracey achieved the prestigious Governor General’s Academic Medal. She graduated from the Social Service Worker program on the afternoon of June 18.