Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Celebrating new horizons: StFX graduates over 900; awards honorary degrees to Dr. Stan Kutcher, Congrégation de Notre-Dame 

May 5th, 2019
Several members of the StFX Class of 2019 celebrate achievement at Spring Convocation on May 5

Work hard. Have fun. Try to make the world a better place.

That was one of the messages shared with members of the Class of 2019 on May 5 as StFX graduated over 900 students during morning and afternoon ceremonies at Spring Convocation held at the Charles V. Keating Centre.  

Family, friends, and fellow alumni—some proudly waving flags, clapping and cheering and sharing shouts of joy—filled the Keating Centre as StFX saw its alumni ranks swell by over 900, new graduates receiving degrees and diplomas, all poised to experience new horizons. 

StFX also awarded two honorary degrees. In the morning ceremony, Dr. Stan Kutcher, a leading psychiatrist and professor, and member of the Senate of Canada, was honoured for his work in helping manage major mental illnesses in youth, while during the afternoon ceremony, the Congrégation de Notre-Dame (CND) was recognized for its work in the value of liberating education to create a more just society.

Dr. Stan Kutcher (top photo) and Sr. Rebecca McKenna (bottom photo) on behalf of the CND are awarded honorary degrees by StFX Chancellor John Peacock and StFX President Dr. Kent MacDonald

A number of faculty were also honoured with major awards, including the designation of Professor Emeritus bestowed upon StFX psychology faculty Dr. Peter Henke and Dr. John Edwards; Outstanding Teaching Awards presented to education faculty Dr. Jennifer Mitton-Kükner and Dr. Chris Gilham, and psychology professor Dr. Karen Blair; and the President’s Research Award to English professor Dr. Mathias Nilges. Bios of all follow below. 


“To the Class of 2019, what can I say, you have been an exceptional group of students,” President Dr. Kent MacDonald said as he extended a warm StFX welcome to all guests, gathered to celebrate the newly minted graduates. “It’s a monumental moment in your life. We wish you nothing but the best.”

Along with congratulations, Dr. MacDonald gave graduates a final homework assignment: to pay the StFX tradition forward, to take five minutes of their life as they become part of Canada’s most connected alumni network and to share the good word about StFX with that person who they think would benefit from this special place; and to always consider StFX their home. “And come back on a regular basis.” 

In officially opening convocation, StFX Chancellor John Peacock extended his sincere congratulations to the Class of 2019. “You have undoubtedly worked hard to achieve your degrees. You deserve to savour the moment,” he told graduates. 

“My message to you today is enjoy this moment. Your accomplishments warrant a period of celebration. However, as you enjoy this moment, you need to also reflect on the fact that with education comes responsibility. Today, maybe more so than in recent history, the world is consumed with significant challenges we must confront and overcome,” he said. 

“My hope is that in addition to whatever occupation you take up, you give thoughtful consideration to how you too can make a difference in helping with some of the challenges we face in society today. 

“You each have the ability to make a contribution, and if you want the world to be a better place, you must be involved in its reconstruction.” 

The message of serving others was a theme repeated several times throughout the ceremony. 

“It is a privilege to receive this honour and I am humbled by it,” Dr. Kutcher said as he noted that StFX is “an institution that has forged its reputation on the call to serve others.”

He reminded graduates about the importance of serving others, in whatever form that takes. 

“Each one of you can help make a better world for all,” he said. “It is through service to others that we grow in ourselves.”

Dr. Kutcher told the graduating class he had a simple theme to share: a ship in the harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are for, and ships are safe in the harbour, but that is not where the fish are. 

“We cannot flourish or prosper if we do not venture out beyond our zone of safety,” he said as he encouraged graduates to embrace uncertainty, to take challenges, and to know that it is only when they leave the safety of the harbour, that they can grow.

He suggested they take two things with them as they venture out. “First, choose the right partner. It makes all the difference…and second don’t fear failure. Failure is an opportunity for learning.” 

Dr. Kutcher concluded his remarks by sharing the motto of his research team, a motto he told the graduates they are free to adopt: “Work hard. Have fun. Try to make the world a better place.”

Sr. Rebecca McKenna delivered the address to the graduates on behalf of the CND.

“It is indeed a great joy and privilege to accept this distinguished honour on behalf of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame,” she said as she congratulated the 2019 graduates. 

This award acknowledges the lives of the sisters truly made a difference, and contributed to the common mission at StFX, Sr. Rebecca says. It recognizes the part the CND played in the larger story, especially in expanding the parameters of education for women. 

“We urge you as new graduates to take on the great work that is uniquely yours,” Sr. Rebecca said.

As you leave here and go out in the world, recognize the places of greatest need and suffering and offer your unique capacity of heart and mind, she advised. “This is the work that the world desperately needs, and which it calls forth from you.

“What you do with your life truly does matter, and so Godspeed on your journey.”


“My hope is we left this place in a better condition than we first arrived,” morning senior class speaker Sarah Comandante of Calgary, AB said as she addressed fellow graduates. 

She says as her time at StFX draws to a close, she frequently reflects on what has made StFX Canada’s premier undergraduate experience. Two things that stand out are the wealth of knowledge gained and the many opportunities for connection. “We have been taught the meaning of community so deeply.” 

“Congratulations,” said afternoon senior class speaker Karen Nembhard of Jamaica.

“We’re not just collecting degrees today, we’re collecting memories,” she told fellow classmates. 

“As we sit together reflecting on these things, please don’t forget that in this very moment we aren’t waiting but we are creating new goals and I hope that on your journey to them, you create memories even better than the ones we had here,” she said. 

“Remember this is a place that we’ve called home.” 

“Congratulations on your tremendous achievement and welcome,” said Laurie Oakes, speaking on behalf of the StFX Alumni Association. “We are here to welcome and support you.”

The Most Rev. Brian Dunn, Vicar of the Founder, offered the benediction. 

StFX Chancellor John Peacock also took a moment to recognize and thank Dr. Kent MacDonald, presiding over his last convocation as president, for his leadership and numerous contributions.  

University medals presented at Convocation included:


These medals are awarded to the student with the highest average in the final three years of an honours, advanced major or major degree program or the final two years of a diploma or education degree program. 

• Bachelor of Science to: Katie Terese MacEachern, West Bay, NS 

• Bachelor of Science in Nursing to: Emily Claire MacKay, Inverness, NS and Holly Lauren Parsons, Kinburn, ON

• Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition to: Anna Joelle Neufeld, Mission, BC 

• Bachelor of Arts/Science in Human Kinetics to: Erin Margaret Samson, Louisdale, NS 

• Diploma in Engineering to: Luis Fernando Gomez de Alba, Queretaro, Mexico 

• Bachelor of Education to: Lauren Dalla Utter, Salt Spring Island, BC 

• Bachelor of Arts to: Kirsten Alexandra Gallant, Antigonish, NS 

• Bachelor of Music/Bachelor of Arts in Music to: Robyn Claire Gale, Canning, NS 

THE GERALD SCHWARTZ SCHOOL OF BUSINESS The following medals are awarded to the students with the highest average in the final three years of a Bachelor of Business Administration or Bachelor of Information Systems program. 

• The ONEX Corporation Gold Medal Bachelor of Business Administration: Liam Stuart Elbourne, Halifax, NS


• The Governor General Undergraduate Medal for the highest average in the final three years of study to: Katie Terese MacEachern, West Bay, NS 

• The Governor General Graduate Medal for the highest overall average in a thesis-based graduate program to: Alexander Patrick Young, Berwick, NS 

Honorary degree and award recipient bios:  

Dr. Stan Kutcher, Honorary Degree recipient

Dr. Stan Kutcher is a leading psychiatrist and professor who has helped young people successfully manage major mental illnesses. In December 2018, he was appointed to the Senate of Canada. Dr. Kutcher studied history and political science before earning a medical degree from McMaster University. He continued his education in Toronto and in Edinburgh, Scotland before joining the University of Toronto, where he made the first of many major contributions to Canadian health care, taking Sunnybrook Hospital’s adolescent psychiatry division and transforming it into an innovative clinical and research facility. He also pioneered research into the causes of and treatments for youth with major mental illnesses. Dr. Kutcher then became Head of the Psychiatry Department at Dalhousie University followed by appointments as Associate Dean for International Heath and the Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health. He has published over 400 articles and authored, co-authored or edited numerous books, and has shared his expertise with organizations in over 20 countries. Dr. Kutcher is also involved in his community. He’s served on the boards of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and the Spryfield Boys and Girls Club. He led the development of a national youth mental health framework for Canada as a member of the Child and Youth Advisory Committee of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Among numerous honours, he’s received the Order of Nova Scotia, the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s Naomi Rae-Grant and Paul D. Steinhauer Advocacy awards, the McMaster University Distinguished Alumni Award and the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada’s John Ruedy Award for Innovation in Medical Education. Dr. Kutcher is married to Jan Sheppard Kutcher. They live in Herring Cove, NS, and have three adult children and six grandchildren.

Congrégation de Notre-Dame, Honorary Degree recipient

The Congrégation de Notre-Dame (CND) has always believed in the value of liberating education. Such an education empowers students, providing them with the tools to become agents of their own transformation, to create a more just society. The CND’s long and valued association with StFX stretches back decades. The “convent school” founded in 1883 at Mount St. Bernard was affiliated with Saint Francis Xavier College as early as 1897 when arts degrees were conferred upon four women. Over the next decade, there would be 23 graduates; by 1930, over 200. The CND had a great desire to respond to the needs of women seeking post-secondary education. The vision and persistence of these women along with the support of Bishop John Cameron and his co-workers at StFX made this dream a reality. In the 1920s, courses designed specifically for women were established: pedagogy; domestic science (a program introduced by the CND); social work; advanced work in music, art and elocution; and language. The first two degrees in household arts were granted in 1932. The CND remained the only faculty for home economics until the 1970s. As more women, including sisters, gained access to higher education, their vocational/professional possibilities expanded. Sister St. Veronica (MacDonald) joined StFX as a history professor in 1937. She was the first CND and the first woman to be a StFX faculty member. By 1971, 20 sisters were full-time staff. They taught in many departments—home economics, music, art, education, theology, English, business, classics, French and Celtic studies, where Sister Margaret MacDonell became chair in 1977. Throughout, the CND contribution to StFX has been exceptional.

Dr. Peter Henke, Professor Emeritus  

Dr. Peter Henke served as a faculty member in StFX’s Psychology Department for 44 years. He came to StFX in 1972, joining a small group creating a more research focused department with an entirely new curriculum. He was an instrumental part of this process, including putting in place the department’s first formal laboratory-oriented course. His career as a researcher included over 80 publications in prestigious academic journals and in prominent books on neuroscience. Many are acknowledged as important contributions to neuroscience. For three decades, he maintained research funding, from NSERC primarily, but also from the Medical Research Council of Canada (now CIHR). As a teacher, he inspired a generation of students who went on to successful careers. Over his career, Dr. Henke served as department chair, and was a member of virtually all department and major university committees. More broadly, he served on the editorial board of Experimental and Clinical Gastroenterology, on the scientific advisory board of the International Brain-Gut Society, and on NSERC’s Scholarships and Fellowships (Life Sciences) Committee. He holds a PhD from the University of Georgia and an MA and BA from Florida Atlantic University.

Dr. John Edwards, Professor Emeritus 

Dr. John Edwards joined the StFX Psychology Department in 1977. He retired in 2015 and is currently a Senior Research Professor. Throughout his career, he served with dedication and distinction, and established himself as an outstanding and prolific scholar. In 2000, he was elected into the Royal Society of Canada, the highest honour available to scholars in Canada. Among his many other achievements, Dr. Edwards is also a fellow of both the Canadian Psychological Association and the British Psychological Society; he is a recipient of both of StFX’s awards for excellence in research, receiving the President’s Research Award in 1995 and the University Research Award in 2008; he has authored, co-authored or edited 21 books, and around 500 journal articles; he has received invitations to present his research findings and related views at conferences and universities in dozens of countries around the globe; he served for decades as the editor of The Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, as well as the editor of the series, Multilingual Matters. He holds a PhD and MA from McGill University and a BA from the University of Western Ontario. 

Dr. Mathias Nilges, 2019 President’s Research Award

Dr. Mathias Nilges, a StFX English professor since 2008, has in just over a decade, established a laudable record of achievement, positioning him as one of the pre-eminent literary and cultural critics of his generation. He holds a PhD in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he won the 2009 University of Illinois at Chicago Outstanding Dissertation Award. He has been appointed an Obama Fellow, Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany, May/June, 2019, and is a Jules Léger Scholar in the Humanities and Social Sciences at StFX. In 2018, he was named director of StFX’s Frank McKenna Centre for Leadership. A frequently invited keynote speaker, he was the prestigious Rheney Lecturer at Vanderbilt University. He was also the driving force behind The Examined Life Lab, a student-led online lab at StFX. He is the author of three monographs, including one in preparation, and numerous edited collections, edited journal volumes, articles, book chapters, reviews, and translations. He has been actively involved in the StFX community, from serving as the Chair, Faculty of Arts to an Immersion Serving Learning faculty leader.  

Dr. Karen Blair, Outstanding Teaching Award

Dr. Karen Blair, assistant professor of psychology, joined the StFX faculty in 2015. Already she’s had significant impact. Dozens of student nominators praise her extensive knowledge, innovative use of technology in the classroom, approachability and teaching style. “The quality I most admire is her ever-present desire to go above and beyond what is expected, with the sincere intent to enrich her students’ educational experience,” writes one. “I am a better critical thinker, writer and person because of learning from her,” says another. Dr. Blair incorporates service learning in her classes and led an Immersion Service Learning experience to Europe to learn about the Holocaust. She’s also provided opportunities for students to present their research at national conferences. Dr. Blair completed a CIHR Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Utah, and holds a PhD in social psychology from Queen’s University, a Diploma in Instructional Design from Athabasca University, a MSc from Acadia University and a BA, University of Guelph. She’s been successful in obtaining research funding, and is chair of the Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Issues Section of the Canadian Psychological Association. 

Dr. Chris Gilham, Outstanding Teaching Award

StFX Faculty of Education associate professor Dr. Chris Gilham has worked as an educator for over 20 years. At StFX, he co-directs and teaches in the Master of Education with a focus on mental health education. He also teaches inclusion and mental health education in the Bachelor of Education program. Prior to this, he taught grades three to nine in regular and special education settings in Japan, Ontario, and Alberta, and has worked as a behaviour and mental health consultant for the Calgary Board of Education. Dr. Gilham is involved in several mental health literacy projects with as well as a project investigating girls’ developmental assets, with partners at New Brunswick Community College and the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre. He is described by his students as a professor, mentor and role model who has an ability to foster a sense of community in his class, and through focused leadership, influences and supports his students to work at their personal best.

Dr. Jennifer Mitton-Kükner, Outstanding Teaching Award

Dr. Jennifer Mitton-Kükner is an associate professor of assessment, literacy, and qualitative research methods in StFX’s Faculty of Education. She holds a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Alberta, a MEd from StFX, a BEd from Mount Allison University, and a BA from the University of King’s College. Prior to university teaching, she taught in secondary schools in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Turkey. Her research interests include adolescent literacies, disciplinary literacies, classroom assessment, pre-service teachers and LGBTQ education, teachers as researchers, and teacher/student experiences in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program. In addition, she works closely with Nova Scotian teachers as part of professional outreach initiatives. Praises one nominator: “her diverse field experiences, her masterful content knowledge, her engaging and culturally relevant courses and activities, as well as her friendly and supportive personality have taught many of us graduating this year what it means to be an effective educator.” 


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