Yorkville University recently celebrated the accomplishments of its 3,360 online graduates during its first in-person convocation ceremonies in New Brunswick in three years.
The newly minted Classes of 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 – who included graduates of Yorkville’s Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology, Master of Education, and Bachelor of Business Administration programs – were feted on Friday, June 3 in a pair of ceremonies presided over by Yorkville University President Dr. Julia Christensen Hughes.
“Today’s ceremony is particularly unique, as we have students convocating from every single province and territory in Canada, from coast to coast to coast,” Christensen Hughes told the nearly 360 graduates who were on hand at the Fredericton Convention Centre to receive their degrees.
“The degrees being received here today arguably represent three essential pillars of a healthy, robust and flourishing society. As graduates, you will collectively be making substantial contributions in multiple ways.”
Those graduating with their Bachelor of Business Administration degrees, Christensen Hughes said, are now free to fulfill their calling to support the development of ethical business, to provide crucial employment opportunities, and to support innovation, leadership, and the creation of products and services that serve society in a sustainable way.
To Yorkville’s Master of Education graduating class, Christensen Hughes noted the utmost importance of their understanding of the complexities of learning in an ever-changing world, and the skills they now have to facilitate the learning of others.
And last, but not least, Christensen Hughes commended Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology students for the invaluable contributions they will no doubt make to the field of mental health and wellness, and noted just how essential it is to have skilled professionals who can help others thrive in these difficult times.
“These are the pillars of Yorkville University New Brunswick’s programs; the pillars that you represent: Ethical commerce, lifelong learning and mental health. What could be more important?” she said.
“We thank you for the contributions you will undoubtedly make to your families, your communities and your professions for years to come.”
Distinguished Convocation Speaker Jenica Atwin, Member of Parliament for Fredericton
Joining Christensen Hughes in her congratulations of Yorkville’s newest graduates was Fredericton’s first female Member of Parliament, Jenica Atwin, who attended the event as Yorkville’s Distinguished Convocation Speaker.
In her remarks to Yorkville grads, Atwin shared some of the life lessons she’s learned along the untraditional path she took to entering politics in 2019 – a decision she made because she saw first-hand the need for quality education, the importance of tackling the climate crisis, and the Canada’s need to do more toward reconciliation with its First Nation peoples.
“I want you to dare to dream, because this role of being a Member of Parliament was never something that was in the cards for me when I was graduating from my studies, but I dreamt of wanting to help my community, of wanting to do something to make a difference,” said Atwin, a former teacher from Oromoncto, New Brunswick.
“I didn’t know what that would look like, and I feel that’s probably the same energy you have today, but my message to you today is to trust the journey.”
Helping Atwin along that journey, she said, was the “gift of education”, which provided her with not only a toolkit for future success, but also instilled in her an optimism for her life, her family’s lives and the future of the country.
“As a politician, I try not to make too many promises, but I can promise you that while today may be the crowning moment of your achievements thus far, it is absolutely just the beginning – and, my goodness, that’s exciting,” said Atwin, who earned both her Bachelor of Arts and Masters in Education degrees from the University of New Brunswick.
“I can’t begin to imagine where each of your stories will take you after today’s convocation, but I know for certain you will make the world better and it will make you stronger.”
BBA Valedictorian Ruth-Anne Boyd
One grad amongst this year’s convocating class who’s already seeing the dividends of all her hard work at Yorkville pay off is Ruth-Anne Boyd, the valedictorian of the Bachelor of Business Administration program.
Inspired by the words of John F. Kennedy’s wise words that “Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try,” Boyd made the brave decision to go back to school at age 50 in order to advance her career and chase her dream of becoming a teacher.
“One of the biggest barriers I faced throughout my career was a repeated and very consistent series of ‘nos’ – no, no, no, no, no – whenever I applied for more senior jobs or whenever tried to make my way up the corporate ladder. Eventually, I realized that the reason I was receiving those automated ‘Thanks, but no thanks,” and continually being overlooked for that higher role was that I did not have a degree,” she explained of her decision to enroll in Yorkville’s BBA program.
“You might be thinking to yourself, ‘Did it work? Did your degree actually help you to get to the next step, to climb that corporate ladder?’ And I can say, that’s a resounding ‘Yes!’ In fact, it was life-changing for me to have my degree.”
Boyd now not only works in a job she “absolutely loves” as a Change Architect, but her inbox and voicemail is regularly inundated with job offers from prospective employers.
“And the icing on the cake is that I am now a professor on top of my full-time job. I teach, I bring that experience, and I share my love of learning with my students. I absolutely love it,” she said, to applause.
“As your valedictorian of the BBA program, I encourage you to show up, I encourage you to speak up, and to be present every single day. That’s what got me through the BBA program. I showed up. I spoke up and I was present. And, just like you, I gave it everything I had.”
Master of Education in Educational Leadership Valedictorian Lori Burger
For Lori Burger, valedictorian of the Master of Education in Educational Leadership program, the opportunity to stand in front of her fellow graduates as the first in her family to achieve a Master’s degree was a “surreal dream” come true.
This was especially true, said Burger, because her own experiences in her K-12 education left her feeling essentially invisible.
“As an Indigenous person, I was invisible in the resources used in the classroom, in the history we learned in school, and in the group of students that our school marked for success,” said Burger, Nisga’a from the community of Gitlaxt’aamiks in the Nass Valley of Northern B.C.
“I learned not to think too far into the future, as many doors had been closed to me.”
All that changed for Burger when, at 19, she welcomed her first son, Samuel, into the world. Upon his arrival she promised herself she would go back to school. For 10 years after that, she successfully continued her schooling through distance education while simultaneously working, first as a supporter worker, then, after her second son, Jesse James’ birth, as a teacher focused on Indigenous education.
“My goals became Indigenous representation and Truth and Reconciliation, because I knew students need belonging, to be seen, honored and empowered. I knew these things because, as a student, I didn’t need anyone to fix me so that I could become successful. I needed them to really see me and my gifts, and to honor my story,” she said.
“These are things that had been missing in our family and many Indigenous families for generations because of the residential school legacy.”
And that, said Burger, is why she ultimately decided to pursue her studies at Yorkville in the field of Educational Leadership – because true leadership isn’t about having all the answers, it’s about empowering others with the ability to see themselves and to honor their own stories.
“This is one of the most valuable lessons I have learned throughout this journey: In order to become true leaders, we have to be vulnerable and to learn about ourselves,” she said in her address to her fellow graduates.
“And so, today I invite you to celebrate the ways that your eyes have been opened to see yourselves. To celebrate and embrace the opportunity to honour your story. This learning has given us the power and privilege as leaders pay it forward. We can open the eyes of others to see themselves. This is what we have the potential to do in leadership.”
Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology Valedictorian Antonia Villalba
This year’s Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology valedictorian, Antonia Villalba, began her journey into the field of mental health in the late 1990s when, at age 14, she endured a struggle-filled immigration from Eastern Europe to Canada.
It was her relationship with her guidance counsellor at the time, who helped her navigate the unexpected challenges of her reunion with her parents and integration into a new country and culture, that inspired Villalba to pursue a career in mental health.
“It was through this relationship of discourse where I learned the power of listening, empathy, and non-judgmental presence. My narrative shifted and I felt a profound need to find meaning in my life. I found purpose,” she said.
“I learned that within each one of us there is power to help another person with their struggle, their journey. How meaningful to know that my story did not end with hate or vengeance, but rather with hope and purpose.”
With that newfound sense of meaning, Villalba decided to enrol in the Human Services Counselling program at George Brown College after high school, and upon her graduation, embarked on an 18-year career working in various capacities – from counselling and case management, to project management and program delivery – at a number of different non-profits, shelters and youth organizations.
“I have seen the pain and struggle in my client’s eyes, but I have also seen how powerful hope can be,” Villalba said in her speech to her fellow MACP graduates.
“As mental health professionals, I believe that this is our mission: to spread hope, and to listen in non-judgment and empathy, so that we may inspire our clients to live in meaning and purpose. May we help them find their light, as we have been helped to find and understand ours.”
It was with that mission in mind that Villalba, a mother of two, decided to continue her studies in Yorkville’s Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology program.
“The last few years have been challenging to all of us, not only because we were doing our Masters, working, and taking care of our families, but also because of everything that was going on in our world…But in spite of our challenges, we made it!” she said, thanking her fellow graduates, professors and mentors for the “instrumental” role they played in helping to build her resilience.
“In the end, it is the stories of struggle that lead us to places of conviction and purpose. Congratulations, Class of 2022! Let’s continue to shed light, instill hope, encourage faith and build strength in the people we serve.”
Before inviting Yorkville’s newly graduated alumni to throw their ceremonial caps in the air in celebration, Christensen Hughes wished them well in their future endeavors.
“It is the knowledge, skills and values that you have learned or further honed while you have been with us that will absolutely set you up for success in the next chapter in your story,” she said.
“We so look forward to learning where your journey will take you next.”