“Now Go and Change the World”

Address to Graduates – Spring 2014 Convocation

The Cape Breton University Class of 2014 represents a truly multicultural and multilingual community of learners who came together in this institution for personal growth and future career development.

Today nearly one third of our students are international in origin and more than half are from Cape Breton Island.  And so we are delighted to welcome friends and family members from this Island, from all parts of Canada, and from all corners of the globe, to celebrate the achievements of our graduates today.

Cape Breton University is proud to be a global village.  For we live on the traditional lands of Mi’Kma’ki, and this island has long been a home and a destination for adventurers, inventors, traders and entrepreneurs.

In a spirit of peace and friendship, the Mi’kmaw peoples of Unama’ki have shared their lands with settlers for hundreds of years.  And theirs is the tradition of generosity that is so central to the Cape Breton Island mindset today.

In a few short years today’s graduates have forged friendships and shared experiences that will resonate in the lives of their families and friends forever.  And wherever they are from originally, these fine men and women are all Cape Breton Islanders now, sharing values of peace and friendship, hard work and social justice.

I know everyone on this platform and in this arena joins with me in offering sincere congratulations to the Graduating Class of 2014.

Cape Breton University has had a spectacular year.  We maintained the highest ranking in the Province for final year student satisfaction, and one of the highest rankings in the country for the quality of student-faculty interaction.

We continue to attract star teachers and scholars with international reputations.

Our incoming Dean of Business Dr David Rae is a renowned academic in the field of entrepeneurship education.  Our new Dean of Arts and Social Sciences Arja Vainio Mattila has a stellar track record in international development and indigenous people’s empowerment, with a special focus on sub-Saharan Africa.

Our two new Canada Research Chairs, Dr Ashlee Cunsolo Willox and Dr Marcia Ostashewski arrived with already established national reputations and hundreds of thousands of dollars in research funding.

Meanwhile, within weeks of his arrival, new Community Studies Professor  Dr Patrick Maher was awarded a prestigious national teaching award sponsored by the Canadian Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and 3M Canada.

Led by Dr Andrew Swanson, our clean technology research centre, the Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment has grown to around 20 staff working on 28 contracts funded by government and private sector sponsors committed to the development of the industries of the future, right here in Cape Breton.  The Centre grew revenues by more than 100% this year and is projecting a further 100% increase next year.

Under the wise leadership of Dean Stephen Augustine, Unama’ki College continues to represent the best support system in Atlantic Canada for Aboriginal student success at the University level, recently recognised by a $300,000 grant, announced yesterday by Minister Kelly Regan, to explore how we may take the College model Province-wide.  And under the guidance of Vice President Dr Keith Brown our Aboriginal Business Program is building partnerships from New Brunswick to the Yukon and many points between.

Our first annual President’s Academy Awards banquet took place this year with awards won by Robert Campbell, Debbie Brennick, Judy MacInnis, Laura Syms and David Mullan.  The Charles MacDonald Award for Exceptional Service to the Academy was awarded posthumously to Wendy MacKenzie and accepted by her husband, Dereck Planetta and daughter Miranda.

And at this convocation we pay tribute to three outgoing and outstanding Academic administrators: Vice President Academic Bob Bailey, Dean George Karaphillis and Dean Mary Keating, who have all served the institution loyally and well.

Our impact on the lives of the Cape Breton Island community continues to grow.

As part of our commitment to invest more in our local schools, this year our faculty launched the CBU Children’s University to provide monthly mind-expanding inspiration to local school children aged 8-13.  Our faculty continued to promote opportunities for girls to study science and engineering subjects at CBU.

The Boardmore Theatre entertained the young – and the young at heart – with productions as diverse as the French classic Cyrano de Bergerac and the slightly less well known Jelly Belly Makes Garbage Delight of Alligator Pie.  Congratulations to every one of our faculty and staff who led and contributed to these initiatives.

Our athletic teams, always the source of much CBU pride, performed well in the Atlantic University Championships under the inspiring leadership of our award-winning coaches.  Our women’s soccer team is now one of the top four teams in Canada.  New recruit, Riverview basketball star Alison Keough was named national rookie of the year. And soccer strikers Karolyne Blain and Ian Greedy were named Atlantic Canadian Most Valuable Players.

This year we were delighted to see 23 of our student athletes recognized as  Academic All Canadians – a record number for CBU.  These exceptional student athletes achieve an academic standing of 80% or better while playing on one of CBU’s varsity teams.

In years to come I know all of our graduates will remember their time here with fondness and pride.

I hope you will stay in touch with each other and with your alma mater through social media and in many other ways.  And I hope many of you will consider re-investing in future generations of Cape Breton University students as previous generations have invested in you.  And I know you will all send your children here to study in years to come.

In the last year we marked the passing of both Father Donald Campbell and John Terry, who together forged the alliance which became the University College of Cape Breton in July of 1974, just forty years ago.   It is poignant today to recognise the vision of our founding fathers in the early 1970s to create “a new type of University…adapted to the needs of people”.  As Father Campbell said: “If we are imaginative, and resourceful enough we can pioneer a totally new concept in university education here.”

Well how true that vision has become.  Today Cape Breton University, as we have been known since 2005, is an educational, economic, social and cultural success story.  One that I know would make our Founders very proud.  Not for us the entitlement of tradition, or ivory tower academics.  Rather we are the student-focused, community engaged, multicultural and entrepreneurial University of the future; and we graduate students with the necessary insights and skills for the future.

I wish you all the very best for your futures: building your families and your careers, and addressing and solving some of the world’s most pressing problems.   For there are many political, environmental and social challenges in the world today, but you are now equipped to meet them head on, with courage and with creativity.  As Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  And as many of our First Nations elders say: “education is our new buffalo”.

I know you will all work hard in the years ahead, so I wish you courage, good fortune and happy lives. Now go and change the world.

David Wheeler PhD
President and Vice-Chancellor