Honorary doctorates encourage grads to use education to make the world a better place
The vision for the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) is to empower people, shape B.C. and inspire global progress. 2019 valedictorian Nic Johnson may just be the embodiment of those principles.
“If there’s one thing that I’d like people to take away from what I say, it’s the importance of giving back to the community that’s supported you,” the newly-graduated civil engineering technologist explains, after speaking at this week’s convocation ceremonies. “It will give you something back that’s intangible. It will keep you going when you want to stop, keep you focused when you’re being distracted.”
It’s a core truth of the way he’s lived his life. He traces his Métis descent through his mother in a direct line to Josephine Neault, a first cousin of Red River rebel-lion leader Louis Riel. Growing up on a First Nations reserve in the Okanagan and then later moving to Vernon, he learned a lot about identity, navigating the perceptions of others, and creating common ground.
“As I transitioned into civil engineering, it made the most sense for me to go to BCIT, because it was the most flexible,” Johnson says.
Instead of doing a four-year degree right off the bat, I chose the two-year program, which lets me work for a bit before going back and doing the degree. It also made me workforce ready, because there was industry-specific and practical knowledge, not just theory.”
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In his time at BCIT, Johnson worked as an Indigenous peer mentor —wanting to make BCIT feel welcoming for Indigenous students, particularly those who were moving from a small town or a reserve. Johnson says it’s a core mission to help other Indigenous people break down barriers for themselves.
Dr. Roberta Jamieson, a Mohawk from Ontario’s Six Nations, is her-self no stranger to breaking down barriers. Awarded an honorary doctorate from BCIT at this year’s convocation, she was the first First Nations woman to earn a law degree in Canada.
After a long legal, political, and public service career, she is now the CEO and president of Indspire. The Indigenous-run registered charity focuses on improving educational opportunities for Indigenous people; the Indspire awards gala this weekend celebrates the achievements of Canada’s best and brightest Indigenous people. She says it’s up to everyone to use the education they’ve received to make the world a better place.
“My own traditional teachings talk about the necessity of having a good mind… having a good mind is a dynamic attitude that engages with the present,and with the future as it evolves,” she told the audience at convocation. “Right now, as you take the next step on the path of your career journey, you’rein such a powerful place to create an inclusive society that builds relationships empowered by mutual respect and keeping a good mind.”
This year’s graduates join the network of more than 185,000 BCIT alumni employed in dozens of different industries. The graduates come from more than 300 different programs that are tailored to meet the needs of industry, so that students are ready to work right away; more than 90 per cent are working within their fields of study,often even before formally graduating. Because of the strong communication between industry and BCIT, the post-secondary institution can rapidly modify programs to meet the ever-changing needs of the modern world.
Elyse Allan, BCIT’s second honorary doctorate recipient, spoke about her journey so far, including serving as CEO of the Toronto Board of Trade and president and CEO of GE Canada. She says BCIT’s graduates will make their ripple effects on the world known as they grow relationships with those around them. It’s a lesson she learned from her own relationships with others.
“They revealed how I could contribute to their success, happiness, help fulfill their dreams —they helped me understand what I had to offer,” Allan explains. “Relationships of all shapes, sizes and dimensions matter. Seek them out, em-brace them, invest in them, treasure them and learn from them.”
BCIT president Kathy Kinloch says it’s no surprise graduates are ready to take on the world —they have everything they need to be successful.
“I am immensely proud of BCIT’s class of 2019. They represent an ambitious generation of professionals who will shape B.C. and inspire global progress,” says Kinloch. “My heartfelt congratulations to all those convocating today, and also to our extraordinary BCIT faculty who have helped these outstanding graduates prepare for careers in a complex and changing world.”
Johnson is certainly proof of that; he received four job offers before even graduating, and is now working with a consulting firm assessing large infrastructure projects like rapid transit between Surrey and Langley. Longer term, he would like to work on renewable energy projects and community planning.
“The generations before us have left us with a burden —we have to solve the problems we already have, and those that still lie ahead,”he says. “We’re at a time in Canadian society where people want to be more informed. Let’s use that to make the world better while we still can.”
(This story first appeared in Vancouver Sun on June 22, 2019, by Claudia Kwan.)