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Address to convocation

Dr. Christopher Loomis, president and vice-chancellor pro tempore

Good morning and thank you for joining us for this convocation. Memorial University has been hosting graduation ceremonies for about 60 years – the direct result of our university – your university – becoming degree-granting as one of the first Acts of the new Canadian province in 1949.

And for those 60 years, and the 25 years that preceded them when we were Memorial University College, we have been carrying the collective hopes and aspirations of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

That’s no conceit. It’s a pretty heavy responsibility that we at Memorial take very seriously.

You see, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador decided 85 years ago that they wanted – nay needed – an institution of higher learning. In 1925 they wanted it as a reminder of the sacrifice paid in the First World War when a generation of potential leaders was wiped out in the senseless carnage. And they needed an institution of higher learning for their children because they recognized that Newfoundland and Labrador should never go leaderless again.

They knew that the future Newfoundland and Labrador would best be built on a solid educational foundation – and they bequeathed this university to those future generations.

To this day students come to Memorial from every community in Newfoundland and Labrador, from every region, from every inland town and from every bay. And they’re coming from every province in Canada and from all over the world, too – 85 countries, to be exact – as Memorial’s reputation has grown nationally and internationally.

By the time we’re finished this annual spring convocation, we will have hosted nine separate sessions, graduating over 2,000 of the best and brightest this province, this country and the world have to offer.

Public Institution

To our graduands, you have all come to fulfill your own dreams, but in doing so you also fulfill the dreams of those who founded the university.

We have created something very special at Memorial and now, as you become members of our family of alumni, it is something you can trade on and build your careers with and, most of all celebrate, for the rest of your lives.

So here’s the conceit. Memorial University is arguably the most important public institution in Newfoundland and Labrador.

When you look at our leaders in politics, in business, in labour, in community development, in health and social development, in education, in the arts – you will find that the “Memorial DNA” is everywhere.

So when one finds oneself, as I did last summer, in a leadership role in this leading institution, it’s impossible to perceive it as anything less than a daunting challenge.

But guided by those superb leaders who preceded me and with whom I had the pleasure of working directly – namely Eddy Campbell, Axel Meisen, Arthur May and Leslie Harris – and with the inspiration of those who came before them – particularly Moses Morgan and the founding president, John Lewis Peyton – I felt it was a job that I had to take on.

Memorial was in transition during my year at the helm. But transition does not mean stop. In fact, at a university it shouldn’t even mean “slow down”. We had – and have – a solid strategic plan. I felt we needed to continue to progress towards the goals in that plan. And we have.

Enrolment growth

We’ve been able to grow our enrolments over the past year. Our student population is up 2.9 per cent to just over 17,600, and that includes our undergraduates, graduate and post-doctoral students.

Our graduate student population increased by 13 per cent over last year, and that speaks to the hard work of our staff in graduate studies who promote Memorial as an excellent place to study, live, and carry out their research.

The provincial government announced $2 million in support of graduate student fellowships earlier this spring, and with applications to our graduate programs up 60 per cent, it is a welcome investment.

Undergraduate enrolment is up 1.6 per cent, and that is significant because we are faced with a continuing decline in the number of students in Newfoundland and Labrador eligible for university studies.

Good news budget

The provincial budget this past year brought more good news for Memorial University. At the heart of our budget request to government was our priority to attract and retain the brightest and the best here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Announced at the end of March, the budget included an additional $22 million in operating funding.

We also received funding to construct new residences and to refurbish laboratories on our campuses in St. John’s and Corner Brook. There was funding to maintain the operations of the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation at our Marine Institute and funding to enhance the research capability at the Ocean Sciences Centre in Logy Bay.

It’s great news for Memorial as we continue to grow. But we still have work remaining. New science research facilities are required if we are to continue to grow our dynamic research program and we’ll be working with government and our other partners over the next weeks and months to delineate those needs.

Sir Wilfred Grenfell College

This year we also made important progress on the governance of Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, an important issue to all of us here at Memorial University.

The Province has provided significant new resources that will enable us to continue to build this Corner Brook campus as a strong and vital part of Memorial University. In the next few years, as our plans unfold, there will be growth in student enrolment, expansion of academic programming, including niche programs that help to distinguish the Corner Brook campus and further its attractiveness to new students, and research growth in areas of strategic importance to the province and the world.

With such an eventful year, it should come of no surprise that we have many great stories to share, so I’ll take a few moments now to provide a few highlights.

Memorial University has more experience delivering distance education than any other university in the country and we do it well.

Take the example of Darlene Toope. Darlene is a busy registered nurse who works 12-hour shifts seveal days a week. Yet she’s graduating this morning with her bachelor of nursing degree (post RN), a feat she would have never managed to accomplish if it wasn’t for distance education.

A distance education student for the past five years, Darlene welcomed the flexibility of learning online. She had access to course materials, the professor, the library, her classmates, and all her assignments.

Darlene is featured in a special advertising campaign created by our award-winning Division of Distance Education and Learning, better known as DELT.

This year the division celebrated its 40th anniversary.

When we began offering credit-based distance education courses in 1969, we televised three off-campus courses to 13 communities in the province. Today, through DELT, we offer some 400 courses in numerous degree programs to over 17,000 distance education registrants every year.

Students on our campuses become very involved in the community – both locally and globally.

For example, inspired by the world-wide humanitarian response to the recent disaster in Haiti, third-year nursing students Megan Hudson, Krista Howell, Katelyn Hynes, Jessica Peddle-Drover and Jessica Hunt, called on the Canadian Nursing Students Association to become involved in global relief efforts during natural disasters on a national and international level.

At the January 2010 Canadian Nursing Students Association National Conference in Quebec City, they presented a position paper they wrote for their Nursing Management and Leadership class as a resolution to the delegates. After an enthusiastic debate the resolution was passed and is now the official position of the CNSA. It will be added to the organization’s policies and used to guide its future direction.

These MUN nursing students made a difference!

Our School of Pharmacy makes a difference as well. It offers a unique opportunity to study in an up-close and personal environment.

And that’s the reason why Abeer Ahmed and Mohamed Shaker chose to come here from Egypt in 2007. The two graduate students were recently named Fellows of the School of Graduate Studies in recognition of outstanding academic achievement throughout a graduate program.

Along with their spouses and children, Abeer and Mohamed moved to Newfoundland and Labrador to learn in a world-renowned centre of excellence.

They’ll return to Egypt when they complete their studies, and we are very proud they’ll take with them experiences and skills they’ve learned here at Memorial.

Research into the fight against certain types of cancer is taking a giant leap forward, thanks to the work of two cancer experts from our Faculty of Medicine.

Dr. Ken Kao, a professor of biomedical science, and Dr. Cathy Popadiuk, an associate professor in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology, have successfully patented a cancer detection process.

The two have been granted a patent for an invention that uses the Pygopus gene, a powerful gene needed for normal development of embryos.

Their research is having far-reaching implications and could help save the lives of people battling everything from cervical and ovarian cancer to lung and breast cancer.

Conclusion

Well, with stories like that, about people who are making a difference at this university, and in our larger community, you can see why it has been a pleasure for me to serve as your president and vice-chancellor pro tempore.

On July 1, Memorial welcomes its next president, Dr. Gary Kachanoski, who comes to us from the University of Alberta.

It’s sort of interesting and maybe a bit prophetic that in 2010 we have someone from Alberta moving to Newfoundland to work.

Seriously, I know that he and his wife Teresa, who is a talented visual artist, are excited about moving here and joining our community.

Fittingly, one of the first duties Dr. Kachanoski will be called upon to perform that day is to represent Memorial University at the ceremonies of remembrance at the National War Memorial in downtown St. John’s. These ceremonies are held every year so that we never forget the sacrifice of those young men who died that fateful day July 1, 1916, at Beaumont Hamel. This university was built in their name and the work we have undertaken over the past 85 years is a tribute to them.

I am confident we are handing Dr. Kachanoski a university in its ascendency, and I’m also confident that he will receive the same superb support that I have received during my term as president. Because you can’t do this alone and expect to achieve the level of success we have at Memorial.

Personally, I’ve been supported in this challenge by an excellent team in the president’s office, by my colleagues on the senior executive committee of the university, by our deans and academic directors – including Dr. Lilly Walker, our dean of students who will soon be stepping down after dedicated service to Memorial – by our administrative leaders, our faculty, our staff, our Chancellor, General Rick Hillier and, most importantly by our students.

Outside the university, Memorial continues to enjoy the financial support of governments provincially, for our operating, capital and some research needs, and federally, for research and some capital needs.

But most importantly we have the faith and support of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador which is perhaps best expressed by the scores of volunteers from every sector of the province who sit on our various governing boards and advisory councils.

Making Memorial what it is and what it will become is truly a collaborative effort that involves us all. And, in one of my last duties as president and vice-chancellor I want to thank you for all you do for Memorial.

Last year we developed a suite of videos to bring greater attention to the breadth, and depth of the work we do here at Memorial University.

We also wanted to showcase our dynamic and vibrant community.

To close, I thought it appropriate that you hear directly from the people who make Memorial University special. So here’s just a sample from one of the videos.

Closing

Finally, graduands, enjoy this day, and when you’re asked in future – as you will be when they recognize just how smart and quick and bright and innovative you are – when they ask where was it that you went to university.

Say it loud. Say it proud – I’m a graduate of Memorial University.

Congratulations

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