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Convocation approaches

Memorial University to confer 14 honorary degrees during spring ceremonies

By Memorial University

An annual rite of passage, Memorial’s spring convocation will see nearly 2,800 degrees, including more than 600 graduate degrees, conferred.

Convocation takes place at the Corner Brook Arts and Culture Centre on May 18 and at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre from May 30–June 2.

Memorial will also recognize 14 people for their leadership in cultural, academic and social spheres with the awarding of honorary degrees.

Honorary degrees will be awarded to renowned gender and politics scholar, Dr. Sylvia Bashevkin; National Film Board executive and film producer, Annette Clarke; Fisher’s Loft owners and arts patrons, John and Peggy Fisher; Come From Away creators, Irene Sankoff and David Hein; global leader of cancer research, Dr. David Huntsman; master of circus and the physical arts, Beni Malone; filmmaker and mentor, Derek Norman; artist and bhangra dancer, Gurdeep Pandher; Indigenous advocate and volunteer, Elder Odelle Pike; Sharing Our Cultures founder and CEO, Dr. Lloydetta Quaicoe; CEO of Mary Brown’s Chicken and philanthropist, Gregory Roberts; and community developer and arts champion, Susan Sherk.

Detailed biographies of the honorary graduands follow below.

Honorary degree recipients are chosen from nominations submitted by the public to the Senate, the university’s academic governing body, after a careful examination of the grounds for their nomination. The honorary doctorate degree is designed to recognize extraordinary contributions to society or the university or exceptional intellectual or artistic achievement.

For further information about convocation, please visit the convocation website.

Ceremonies will be broadcast live on www.mun.ca during each session of convocation. The recorded broadcasts will be archived on Memorial’s convocation website for future viewing.


Dr. Sylvia Bashevkin
Dr. Sylvia Bashevkin wears a black and white jacket and turquoise jewellery and glasses against a white backdropDr. Sylvia Bashevkin is a professor emerita of political science at the University of Toronto and is the former principal of University College there.

A senior fellow of Massey College and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Dr. Bashevkin is arguably the leading scholar of gender and politics in Canada.

She holds a bachelor of arts from Hampshire College, Mass., a master of arts from the University of Michigan and a doctoral degree from York University.

Since her landmark and vitally significant first book, Toeing the Lines: Women and Party Politics in English Canada (1985) — still required reading in the study of women’s role in electoral politics — Dr. Bashevkin has published 12 books and dozens of articles in top-tier academic journals.

She has also used her strong voice and unparalleled communication skills to deliver hundreds of papers at conferences and more than 50 invited public lectures.

Since the 1980s, women and politics groups in Newfoundland and Labrador have relied extensively on her research on women, politics and power.

Her body of work, which is notable for its high quality, its remarkable breadth and its international impact, has made critical and groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of women’s place in political life.

She is the recipient of the Canadian Political Science Association Prize in International Relations; the Bertha Lutz Prize for public writing on women and diplomacy; the Ursula Franklin Award in Gender Studies; and the Mildred A. Schwartz Lifetime Achievement Award, the last recognizing exceptional scholarly achievement on an international scale.

For her trailblazing and uncommonly impactful career as a political scientist and educator, for championing research and public communication about women and girls in Canada and beyond, Dr. Sylvia Bashevkin will receive the degree of doctor of letters, honoris causa, on May 30 during the 3 p.m. session of convocation in St. John’s.

Annette Clarke

Smiling woman in black shirt with dark hallway behind her

Annette Clarke is a multi-award-winning producer whose work in the independent film industry and with the National Film Board of Canada has been acknowledged and celebrated, nationally and internationally.

Recognized in the industry as a creative collaborator, she has worked with Canada’s leading directors while championing the careers of many emerging filmmakers.

Ms. Clarke grew up in Little St. Lawrence, N.L., and came to Memorial in the 1970s to study sociology and political science.

She later served as a co-ordinator with the St. John’s Women’s Centre and embraced its mandate to promote stories by and for women. These experiences led her to the National Film Board’s Montreal-based Studio D — the first feminist filmmaking unit in the world. She led an all-woman team promoting films across the country and began her producing career in the early 1990s.

Ms. Clarke produced and executive-produced more than 100 documentary, animation and experimental films. Her productions have screened across numerous platforms and at major festivals throughout the world.

Select credits include Vive La Rose (Sundance); The Boxing Girls of Kabul (CSA Best Short Documentary); Danny (Hot Docs: Big Ideas); Hand. Line. Cod. (Berlin); Luben and Elena (FIFA); Love, Scott (Jury Prize – Inside Out); Wintopia (IDFA); and How To Be At Home (Annecy, TIFF Top 10).

Ms. Clarke, through her company Ruby Line Productions, is currently developing a feature documentary about Shallaway’s Lauda youth choir and a limited television series based on Wayne Johnston’s novel, The Mystery of Right and Wrong.

For an impactful career that has contributed to the cultural and artistic definition of who we are as Canadians, and for her leadership, mentorship and influence, particularly on filmmakers in the Atlantic provinces, Annette Clarke will receive the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, on May 31 during the 3 p.m. session of convocation in St. John’s.

John and Peggy Fisher
From left are Peggy and John Fisher. He has his arm around her and there is a large building and greenery behind them.Peggy Fisher first saw the island of Newfoundland as a child from a ship en route to England. John Fisher’s first visit to Newfoundland and Labrador was as a consultant to Parks Canada. Later, he guided the development of five hospital foundations in western, central and eastern Newfoundland.
In 1989 the couple purchased a summer home in Port Rexton. They decided that an outport would be a better place than a city to raise their two sons, Luke and Gabriel.

Fishers’ Loft Inn began in 1997 as a four-room bed and breakfast. Over the next 15 years, the inn scaled up to 33 rooms and suites, a restaurant, an executive conference centre and a book and craft shop. The inn now employs 34 residents who seasonally care for 12,000 guests from around the globe.

Their contributions to the arts community have taken many forms: from local art exhibitions and residence programs; to the founding sponsor of the Bonavista Biennale; to hosting Come All Ye, a singing retreat for non-singers; to providing seed funding for the revival of the literary magazine, Riddle Fence; to being major players in the founding of Business and Arts N.L.

They received numerous accolades and awards, including the Entrepreneur of the Year award from Memorial’s Faculty of Business Administration; the Orchid Award from Hospitality N.L.; the Doug Wheeler Award in Recognition of Outstanding Contribution to Tourism from the Government of N.L.; and the Patron of the Arts Award from the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council.

For their long-term and sustained contributions to the intellectual, artistic and cultural life of Newfoundland and Labrador, and for their transformative impact on its tourist and hospitality industries, John and Peggy Fisher will receive the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, on May 31 during the 7 p.m. session of convocation in St. John’s.

David Hein and Irene Sankoff
From left are David Hein and Irene Sankhoff. She has her hand on his shoulder and they are against a dark backdropCanadian composers, lyricists and librettists Irene Sankoff and David Hein are partners in work and life. She was born in North York, Ont.; he in Regina, Sask.

Together, they are the creators of the Broadway musical sensation, Come From Away.

Ms. Sankoff has degrees in psychology, creative writing and acting. Mr. Hein has a theatre degree from York University, where the couple met.

On 9/11, they were living in New York City in a residence for international students.

In those early days of fear and uncertainty, Ms. Sankoff, Mr. Hein and their neighbours from around the world took care of one another — a profound experience that the couple drew on years later.

Come From Away tells the story of the uncommon generosity and kindness of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians as they took in and cared for 7,000 stranded passengers that day.

Crafted from the stories they absorbed when Ms. Sankoff and Mr. Hein came to Gander in 2011 to celebrate the 10-year reunion of the “plane people” and the “islanders,” Come From Away shows how connections can be forged under the most challenging of circumstances, instills lost faith in the goodness of humanity and swells the heart with pride of place.

Come From Away won three Dora Awards, four Helen Hayes Awards, five Outer Critics Circle Awards and three Drama Desk awards. The Tony- and Grammy-nominated couple won Best Score and Best Musical at the Olivier Awards.

Come From Away continues to play live around the globe and on AppleTV+. The couple is currently working on projects for Netflix, Disney and more.

For creating a deeply moving piece of art and showing the world the best of Newfoundland and Labrador’s spirit, Irene Sankoff and David Hein will receive the degree of doctor of letters, honoris causa, on May 18 during the 7 p.m. session of convocation in Corner Brook.

Dr. David Huntsman
Dr. David Huntsman wears a dark suit and red tie against a grey backdrop.Dr. David Huntsman grew up in St. John’s and graduated from Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine in 1988.

He spent two years working in Labrador West before embarking on postgraduate studies in pathology and genetics in British Columbia.
After realizing that the knowledge required to effectively use genetic information in medicine did not yet exist, he shifted his focus to research.

His early research, working closely with families from Placentia Bay and their diaspora from across North America, provided much of the data that underpins the current management of hereditary stomach cancer.

At the University of British Columbia he is the Dr. Chew Wei Memorial Professor of Gynaecologic Oncology, holds the Canada Research Chair in molecular and genomic pathology and is a professor in the Departments of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

In 2001 he co-founded and still is the director of OVCARE, B.C.’s multidisciplinary gynecologic cancer research team. His team created a blueprint for subtype specific ovarian cancer control and are leaders in the application of novel genomic technologies to better prevent, diagnose and treat ovarian cancer, including the discovery of the key mutations that underpin several cancer types. These discoveries have translated into improved diagnostics and treatment strategies.

Dr. Huntsman leads several Canadian and international collaborative networks and recently served as co-chair of the Canadian Cancer Society. He also founded a company, Contextual Genomics, to reduce geographic and economic barriers to cancer care.

He is a fellow of both the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.

For being a global leader within the Canadian cancer research community, and for his transformative impact on our ability to prevent and treat hereditary cancers, Dr. David Huntsman will receive the degree of doctor of science, honoris causa, on June 1 during the 10 a.m. session of convocation in St. John’s.

Beni Malone
Beni Malone is front on to the camera against a dark backdrop. Beni is wearing a blue shirt with white polka dots and is smiling broadly.A graduate of Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Clown College, Three Schools of Art and L’ecole Nationale Du Cirque in Paris, France, St. John’s-born Beni Malone has almost single-handedly introduced and developed professional clowning and circus arts in Newfoundland and Labrador.

His innovative style and energetic performances have entertained thousands of children and adults since 1974. He has performed nationally and internationally in theatre, television and film and is the founder and artistic director of Wonderbolt Productions.

Mr. Malone has developed curriculum-based circus-arts programs for physical education classes of all levels. He was instrumental in the creation of the Kamataukashiuat Arts Festival in Sheshatshiu and Natuashish, Labrador. He is presently developing a circus/physical arts program along Labrador’s North Coast.

Wonderbolt operates its own circus school in St. John’s, which boasts more than 100 students of all ages, some of whom have gone on to join circus companies.

Wonderbolt launched the St. John’s International CircusFest in 2018. The festival has attracted performers from as far away as Finland, Germany and France.

In addition, Mr. Malone operates The Space, a downtown cultural and training centre. In July 2021 he wrote and performed in The Best Medicine Show and toured it as part of Wonderbolt’s fortieth season.

He was awarded the Arts in Education Award by the N.L. Arts Council in 2006 and received the ArtsNL Artist Achievement Award in 2017.

Mr. Malone has also worked extensively on environmental causes. His efforts resulted in major improvements in the Waterford River and helped establish a sewage treatment plant in St. John’s.

For bringing the joy of the circus to the furthest reaches of Newfoundland and Labrador and beyond, and for promoting physical wellness through love of theatre, Beni Malone will receive the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, on May 30 during the 10 a.m. session of convocation in St. John’s.

Derek Norman
Man faces camera with bright, blurred background. He's wearing a dark jacket and blue shirtDerek Norman is a filmmaker, director, producer, mentor, teacher and a consummate collaborator.

Mr. Norman has been at the centre of the creative community in St. John’s and Newfoundland and Labrador from the 1970s to the present day, collaborating on an immense range of artistic projects, mentoring countless young filmmakers and using the medium of film as a tool for community research and social development.

A long-time presence at Memorial University, Mr. Norman got his first taste of filmmaking in 1972 when he documented a student protest; he was then hired as a production assistant by Memorial’s Extension Services’ Film Unit and then as the media producer for the groundbreaking Community Learning Centres project.

Having gained extensive production experience, he joined a group of young filmmakers to create the Newfoundland Independent Filmmakers Co-operative (NIFCO), where he produced experimental shorts, documentaries, dramas and feature films.

He expanded NIFCO’s training activities into a full suite of courses and developed the innovative First Time Filmmaker program, launching the careers of some of the province’s most active practitioners.

With the industry thriving, Mr. Norman returned to Memorial in 2001 to create the Digital Research Centre for Qualitative Fieldwork, designed to give researchers the digital tools to document their work and disseminate it to a global audience.

One of the documentaries, The People of NunatuKavut, has been screened by the CBC and at international festivals, while The Films of Fogo Island documented how in the 1960s Memorial and the National Film Board used the medium as a catalyst to change the way people see and represent themselves and to bring about positive social change.

For his exceptional contributions to cultural expression in Newfoundland and Labrador as a pioneering filmmaker, teacher and mentor, Derek Norman will receive the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, on May 31 during the 10 a.m. session of convocation in St. John’s.

Gurdeep Pandher

Gurdeep Pandher is wearing a bright orange head wrap and a green, blue and white sweater. His hand is raised to his cheek and he is smiling warmly. A wooden house and snow is behind him.

Gurdeep Pandher is an internationally known, Yukon-based Sikh author, teacher and performer who has made, and continues to make, extraordinary contributions to society and our collective well-being by sharing bhangra dancing with the world.

Mr. Pandher moved to Canada from his ancestral village, Siahar, in his native Punjab in 2006; he became a Canadian citizen in 2011.

He completed a bachelor of education degree from Yukon University and a master’s degree in public administration from Panjab University.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, he posted daily videos of himself dancing traditional Punjabi bhangra folk dance in the outdoor setting of his remote cabin in the Yukon as a way of spreading hope and joy.

Apart from the physical and mental uplift created through his dance movement, another meaningful side of Mr. Pandher’s work is building inter-racial and cross-cultural bridges. He has collaborated with people and artists from many different backgrounds, including Indigenous artists, to build a deeper understanding of multicultural Canada.

He also promotes inclusivity in sport, the military, charities and non-profit organizations. In 2017 he performed with Stephanie Dixon, a Canadian Paralympic Games medallist. In 2019 he collaborated with the Canadian Armed Forces to create a video to celebrate diversity and inclusivity in the military. He held free dance workshops with Doctors Without Borders and the Canadian Mental Health Association.

In 2021 Mr. Pandher received the Canadian Public Relations Society National President’s Award for Outstanding Public Relations and Communications Management.

Also in 2021, he received the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Louie Kamookak Medal for making Canada’s geography better known to Canadians and to the world.

For using his kinetic art to promote inclusivity and spread optimism, joy and light in a dark time, Gurdeep Pandher will receive the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, on May 18 during the 3 p.m. session of convocation in Corner Brook.

Elder Odelle Pike

Odelle Pike wears a bright purple, white and black shirt and is smiling broadly. A backdrop of blue sky and pink clouds is behind her.

Elder Odelle Pike grew up in a strong traditional Mi’kmaw family in St. George’s, N.L.

She is president of the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women’s Network, the founder of the People of the Dawn Indigenous Friendship Centre, director of the Ulnooweg Development Corp. and a respected Mi’kmaw elder.

She holds a certificate in business administration from Memorial University, which led to the ownership of a successful outfitting business. During her years as a businessperson, Elder Pike often gave back to her community to support economic development opportunities.

As a community advocate, Elder Pike is passionate about cultural revitalization, sustainability, mental health and supporting members of the LGBTQ community facing gender-based violence and the women and families impacted by the murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls crisis.

She has played a leadership role for 40 years in the figure skating world, focusing on investing in the physical and mental well‐being of youth. She has served as the western regional director and on the board of Skate Canada N.L.

Since her retirement in 2011, Elder Pike has concentrated on empowering Indigenous men, women, youth and diverse peoples to realize their full potential.

She is the recipient of the 2000 Skate Canada N.L. Volunteer of Excellence Award; the 2008 City of Corner Brook Citizen of the Year Award; the 2008 Newfoundland and Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs Visionary Award; the 2010 Ulnooweg Development Group Lifetime Achievement Award; the Governor General of Canada–Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers in 2017; and the Order of Newfoundland of Labrador in 2019.

For her dedicated Indigenous leadership and for the depth and breadth of her community service within the province, in social justice issues and in sport, Elder Odelle Pike will receive the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, on May 18 during the 10 a.m. session of convocation in Corner Brook.

Dr. Lloydetta Quaicoe
Lloydetta Quaicoe wears a bright blue headwrap and a green and white shirt with an angular neckline. She is smiling broadly at the camera with a white block wall behind her.Originally from Sierra Leone, Dr. Lloydetta Quaicoe moved to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1982 where she has distinguished herself for her dedication and support for many social causes.

She holds a master of arts degree from Memorial University and a doctoral degree in education from the University of South Australia.

Dr. Quaicoe’s commitment to the psychosocial needs of young immigrants and refugees resulted in her establishing the non-profit organization, Sharing Our Cultures, in 1999. Since then, Sharing Our Cultures has offered free intercultural learning programs to thousands of culturally diverse youth.

The organization expanded its programs to all regions of the province to help culturally diverse youth to better integrate into Canadian society. Its programs also help youth from Indigenous and francophone communities gain an improved sense of acceptance, belonging and security.

Her work in diversity and inclusion in public policy and the education system resulted in Sharing Our Cultures programs being integrated into school curriculum across Newfoundland and Labrador.

Through the organization’s founding, Dr. Quaicoe has had a profound impact on helping youth to recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion within their communities. Dr. Quaicoe has worked on issues around equity, diversity and inclusion long before the subjects were talked about in the general sphere.

Dr. Quaicoe was recognized with the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award for Social Change in 2021; the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2019; the Human Rights Champion certificate from the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission in 2018; and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013.

For her commitment to diversity and inclusion, for helping people find a sense of place and belonging, and for her actions to move our society forward, Dr. Lloydetta Quaicoe will receive the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, on June 2 during the 3 p.m. session of convocation in St. John’s.

Gregory Roberts

Gregory Roberts wears a dark zippered coat and stands on a balcony with a white wooden railing behind him. In the far distance is the ocean, trees and land.

Gregory Roberts was born and raised on Triton Island, a small community off the northeast coast of Newfoundland. He attended the local multi-grade classroom school.

At the age of 17, Mr. Roberts left Triton Island to attend Memorial University. He graduated with a bachelor of commerce degree, going on to become a chartered accountant. He is also an alumnus of Harvard Business School after graduating from the President’s Program in Leadership.

In 1998 Mr. Roberts started his first company, Pilley’s Island Enterprises Ltd., a small gas station with a seasonal restaurant. Since that time, he has founded numerous businesses and investments, employing more than 6,000 people.

One of the largest and most notable companies in his portfolio is Mary Brown’s Chicken. He acquired the brand in 2007 and is now the sole shareholder. Mary Brown’s Chicken is one of Canada’s fastest growing brands and will have 300 units by the end of 2023 with a trajectory to reach 500 locations within the next three years.

From humble beginnings, Mr. Roberts transformed his business into one of Canada’s largest privately held restaurant chains into a multinational corporation.

Mr. Roberts has been a member of the Young President’s Organization since 2008 and has been honoured with many entrepreneurial and other awards, including Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2010 and the Chartered Accountants Early Achievement Award in 2007.

He has been a director with several private and public companies, as well as not-for-profit organizations. He was inducted into Newfoundland and Labrador’s Business Hall of Fame in 2019.

For his lifelong commitment to rural Newfoundland and Labrador, for his contributions to our provincial and national economy through his business savvy, leadership and entrepreneurial drive, Gregory Roberts will receive the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, on June 1 during the 3 p.m. session of convocation in St. John’s.

Susan Sherk
Susan Sherk wears a purple v-neck shirt and smiles openly at the camera.In 1967 Susan Sherk worked in North West River, N.L., where she experienced the difficulties Innu encountered when forced from a traditional nomadic lifestyle. She has been devoted to community development in the province ever since.

She holds a bachelor of arts degree from Wheaton College in Massachusetts and studied anthropology at Memorial University.

While working with Memorial’s Extension Services, Ms. Sherk realized that, although a fertile region for social science studies, information gathered from Newfoundland and Labrador’s communities was rarely returned. In response, she created the magazine Decks Awash.

From 1972–80, Ms. Sherk visited and wrote about almost every community in the province. She co-authored the textbook, The Fishery of Newfoundland and Labrador, because none existed in the curriculum.

She served as Mobil Oil Canada’s east coast manager of public affairs, where she worked to integrate the offshore oil and gas industry into the local milieu.

As a commissioner with the province’s Economy Recovery Commission, she developed strategies and implementation plans for numerous sectors. As assistant deputy minister of Tourism, she focused on growing the province’s cultural and outdoor product.

Ms. Sherk was a senior associate with AMEC Earth and Environmental, where she focused on researching and predicting the social effects of large‐scale projects on populations and on developing effective management strategies.

She served as chair of Memorial University’s Botanical Garden and Wonderbolt Circus and was instrumental in creating and leading the Bonavista Biennale into becoming a national arts festival. She has been a board member of numerous Newfoundland and Labrador non-profit associations and several national and international corporations.

For a lifetime of work in community development and entrepreneurship and for her uncommon dedication to the province’s arts and culture sector, Susan Sherk will receive the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, on June 2 during the 10 a.m. session of convocation in St. John’s.

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