A record number of Métis and First Nations students received their degrees and joined the University of Alberta’s alumni family at Augustana’s convocation ceremony June 2, 2013. Eight graduates declared their Aboriginal ancestry and most elected to participate in an honouring ceremony onstage to recognize and honour the students’ academic accomplishments.
Augustana was privileged to have Dr. Wilton Littlechild, a member of the Ermineskin Cree Nation, onstage to perform the honouring ceremony. He also had the opportunity to present an offering to his youngest daughter, who followed in her father’s footsteps and earned an undergraduate degree majoring in physical education. An alumnus with three U of A degrees of his own, Chief Littlechild has the distinction of being the first Treaty First Nations person to acquire a U of A law degree. In 2007, he was bestowed an honorary doctor of laws degree by the U of A for his many outstanding achievements including the passionate work he has done to advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples.
Métis student Anastasia Evarts from Whitecourt, Alta., crossed the stage to receive a bachelor of arts degree in psychology. Anastasia will be continuing her educational journey in September at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S., where she has been accepted into a three-year master’s program in speech-language pathology.
“I will never forget my experience at Augustana,” Anastasia said. “Augustana has shaped me into the person I am today. Because of Augustana, I was accepted into the graduate program I wanted and am happy with myself as a person. I have made so many wonderful friends who taught me about life and relationships. Augustana’s staff and professors are truly amazing. They have helped me in so many ways and opened my mind to so many new possibilities.”
Over the past four years, Anastasia has been an active member of Augustana’s Aboriginal community. In addition to volunteering at numerous Aboriginal Student Office events, she served as one of the campus’s two Aboriginal student mentors. “I have learned so much and grown so much as a Métis woman because of Augustana, and learned that I am not alone in exploring my culture,” she said. This year she was also very involved in the campus Triathlon Club.
Kasandra Baumann from Pigeon Lake, Alta., who also graduated with a BA majoring in psychology, plans to study neuropsychology in graduate school after a year of travel and spending time with friends and family. Some of her favourite memories of Augustana include her involvement with the Psychology Club, watching basketball and, of course, hitting the bell of the centenary sculpture to signify her last day of class.
“I came to Augustana scared to leave my small town, family and friends,” Kasandra said. “However, I found a new family at Augustana. I felt welcomed and at home during my time here and will be sad when September rolls around and I am not returning. I have met lifelong friends, including professors and other staff members, and will be forever grateful for the experience I had during my time here.”
Justine Louis calls Hobbema, Alta., home and is a proud member of the Samson Cree Nation. A talented artist, Justine realized her goal of obtaining a BA in visual art and now has set her sights on travelling the world before working toward a master’s in fine arts. With so many favourite memories from her time at Augustana, Justine didn’t know where to begin, but confided, “Watching the faculty entertain the student body at the Faculty Follies made me laugh—and showed a softer side of the professors we work with all year…. Getting wild at the bashes with my friends, and overwhelmingly late nights in the studio, are things I’ll never forget.”
To new students beginning their studies in September, Justine said, “If you’re excited for—or at least open to—the idea of independence, learning and meeting new people, you’re going to love it here!”
“Experience of a lifetime” is how Métis student Pamela Billey from Smoky Lake, Alta., described her time at Augustana. Graduating with a BA in environmental studies, Pamela plans to become a certified environmentalist and agrologist. “Take opportunities as they arise and never hold back,” is her advice to incoming students. “Do what you love and are passionate about; enjoy every moment for what it’s worth, good and bad.”
Graduating with a bachelor of science in mathematics and physics, Métis student Allysa Fraser plans to put the skills she’s learned at Augustana to use by studying environmental law to “help save the planet.” Originally from Whitehorse, Yukon, Allysa was a co-founder and president of the Augustana Math Club. “The club had many events that allowed us to learn about interesting topics we would never have seen in our classes: poker, sudoku, math in pop culture.” She says the club was a lot of fun and allowed her to meet and socialize with people who shared similar interests. She hopes that many students in the future will be able to do the same.
When asked what emotions she might feel when crossing the stage at graduation, Allysa said, “Pride in all of my hard work, sadness for having to close such a wonderful chapter of my life, and excitement for what the future brings.”
For drama major Mariah St. Germain, touring with the choir through Hungary, helping to co-ordinate Residence Services’ annual Rocky Road Ice Cream Fantasy event, Augustana’s 2011 Round Dance, and the opportunity to workshop The Black Rider are among the fond memories she will take away after graduation.
Originally from Wetaskiwin, Alta., Mariah is excited to be continuing her journey by heading east to pursue a master’s in creative art therapy at Concordia University in Montreal. She attributes at least part of her success to the positive influences and role models at Augustana. She describes her time at Augustana as a “complete education with, honestly, so many wonderful people and genuine faculty and staff” and encourages new students to get involved in every capacity they can. “Embrace new opportunity,” she said. “Augustana is a safe and caring community to be a part of, so go nuts!”
Mariah admits feeling a bit anxious that she might trip on her way across the convocation stage, but also says she expects to feel pride, joy and excitement—as well as a bit of relief knowing that her degree is now done. In terms of the honouring ceremony, she said, “Receiving an eagle feather at convocation will be a huge honour. It will give me a sense of connection to my community on and off campus, as well as confidence to go into communities as an advocate in what I do, what I discover and what I will do in the future.”
The Aboriginal Students Office would like to extend heartfelt congratulations to all of Augustana’s 2013 First Nations and Métis graduates, wishing them continued success in their future endeavours as they continue on their path of lifelong learning.