Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

StFX congratulates Class of 2021—a graduating class that persevered and thrived; honours Dr. Robert Strang, Sean Boyd during Spring Convocation 

May 7th, 2021
StFX President Dr. Andy Hakin addresses the graduating Class of 2021

The StFX Class of 2021—a group of graduating students who persevered and thrived in a year like no other—was celebrated May 7, 2021 as StFX welcomed nearly 945 new alumni and honoured Nova Scotia Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang and Sean Boyd, Vice-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Agnico Eagle Mines Limited, with the degree Doctor of Laws honoris causa, during Spring Convocation ceremonies. 

Graduates were united in celebration, but physically separate as StFX officially awarded degrees and diplomas to the Class of 2021 during two virtual ceremonies that pre-recorded speakers and participants separately after changes to indoor gathering limits were introduced as part of the Nova Scotia government’s two-week provincial lockdown postponed the May 2 online convocation date. 

StFX President Dr. Andy Hakin brought congratulations and thanks. 

“Today, I begin by letting you know how grateful this university is to you, our graduates, and your families, for your patience and understanding as we continue to find new paths forward in response to the altered reality of life due to this pandemic,” said Dr. Hakin, who noted that if we talked a year ago, it would seem inconceivable this ceremony would need to take the form it has today, a form that changed multiple times in the last few weeks. 

“As the graduating Class of 2021, your personal journey through StFX has been unlike those of any other year that has gone before you. Stories of what you’ve navigated will become legendary in the history of StFX.”

The outcome—your convocation—is a fantastic achievement, he said, “and I congratulate each of you on the strength and resilience you demonstrated in reaching the finish line.”

Dr. Hakin says the promise of an immersive experience is a key differentiating element of the StFX journey. It’s what many students want. This year, StFX continued to provide that place where students can thrive despite limitations imposed by the pandemic. “Our success in completing the academic year can be attributed to the hard work and support of staff, faculty, students and members of the broader local community we call home. In the last year, we’ve witnessed a community collectively pulling together to achieve a remarkable outcome of supporting an immersive experience in which we have led the country in the proportion of face-to-face courses.” 

Dr. Hakin said making a difference to those around you is part of the Xaverian way and he can already see examples of that in today’s graduates. 


Dr. Robert Strang

Dr. Strang, Nova Scotia’s top doctor and public face of Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 response, congratulated the students for their amazing achievements this year. He also took time to challenge the graduating class to remember the call to look after each other, and to focus on those who have a greater need in our community, and on how we lift people up, how we lift communities up. 

“Thank you to the StFX community. It’s exciting to be here. I’m honoured and humbled to be receiving this honorary degree and to join part of the StFX family,” Dr. Strang said as he opened his remarks, and noted that it is important people understand he is receiving this honour on behalf of all public health professionals in recognition of their dedication and expertise over the past year-and-a-half supporting and leading Nova Scotia through the current pandemic. 

“It’s been a difficult and challenging year-and-a-half working through your education while dealing with all the requirements and restrictions that come with the COVID-19 pandemic. It hasn’t been easy.

“You have done an amazing job and a model for people to look at and to continue to have mostly in-person learning while keeping everyone COVID safe.”

Dr. Strang said the StFX and greater community has been incredible in their collaboration and commitment to each other, and students have been front and centre in that.

In thinking about his remarks for today, Dr. Strang said he had a few key messages. 

COVID has been difficult, but there are a few things it can show us. Among them is how connected we are at the global level, and the need to be mindful of how everything we do has possible impact.

Dr. Strang said the pandemic has reminded us of the importance to think globally, and act locally. “That’s not new at all at StFX,” he said. “It’s engrained in the culture and ethos of StFX.”

The second thing it’s revealed is our commitment to each other. “The success of Nova Scotia has really been because everyone has answered the call. The way we keep each other safe during the pandemic is to act for each other, to put each other’s needs ahead of our own to some extent. That to me is a critically important piece coming out of the pandemic.” Thinking about how we work together and that sense of caring for each other and looking after each other, can only make us better as we come out of the pandemic. 

The last piece, he said, is knowing the pandemic has had different impacts on different parts of our communities, particularly the most vulnerable. “The pandemic has really shone a light on some of those inequities and it’s important that we not turn away, but that we unpackage those and dive into those and say how do we reduce those inequities, make things fairer, more just, more caring in our communities. So that’s a call for all of us.”


Sean Boyd

Sean Boyd, who’s been heralded as a global visionary in the mining industry and is a former member of the StFX Board of Governors, also reminded graduates that with challenges come opportunities, and that they’ve certainly learned how to adapt. 

“I am honoured and humbled to accept this honorary degree from StFX, particularly because three of my four children attended StFX,” he said as he opened his remarks. 

“What a day of accomplishment and anticipation for the future. Unfortunately, we can’t all be together, but this is your day to shine.”

Mr. Boyd said it’s also a day for being grateful—grateful for the friends made, the teachers you’ve learned from, and more importantly, for the people who’ve supported you through this journey of growth and accomplishment. 

“We’ve learned we can’t take anything for granted and to value and honour those in your life,” he said. 

To honour those special people, Mr. Boyd advised graduates to strive to exceed their own expectations, and to be the best they can be in whatever path they choose.  

Characteristics that have served him well have been patience with respect to his career path and willingness to make decisions and take risks. 

As well, he said he’s grateful to the many individuals in his life who have benefitted his path, including his father Kevin Boyd, who always advised him to think big and to set goals that seemed beyond reach, who often quoted a saying to him: ‘It’s not the mountains that will wear you down, it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.” Former Agnico Eagle boss Paul Penna, he said, was a man of charity who taught him to help people if you can and that you must go to them, not for them to go to you. And his in-laws, including his father-in-law, an immigrant who came from Italy, provided an excellent lesson on realizing the richness of family.

“My hope and wish for all of you is simple, that those people who are most important in your life are by your side with you for many years, that you can share and celebrate the goodness of life together, that your belief in yourself is as strong as the confidence and belief that your family and friends have in you. That you take on all the mountains with energy and enthusiasm while ignoring the grain of sand in your shoe, and that your success is filled with the richness that comes with being kind, making a positive difference in people’s lives.”


Among major honours at the ceremony were the presentation of the President’s Research Award to Dr. Kara Thompson, Department of Psychology; and the Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award to Dr. Jen Jamieson, Department of Human Nutrition; Dr. Laura-Lee Kearns, Department of Education; and Marlis Lade, Department of Modern Languages.  

Graduates were presented with their degrees containing two parchments, one written in traditional Latin and one in Mi’kmaq, to show StFX’s respect and honour for shared treaty relations. 

StFX Knowledge Keeper Kerry Prosper introduced alumna Michelle Lebrun who performed the Mi’kmaq honour song from her home in Pictou Landing, NS to honour and congratulate this year’s StFX graduates.


Chancellor John Peacock

Chancellor John Peacock conferred the degrees and diplomas in course. 

“I am proud of you, but not at all surprised by the character you’ve shown this past year,” Mr. Peacock said, telling graduates he hopes they take away an awareness of themselves, and also an understanding of the essential role others play in their life. “If this year has taught us anything is that we need each other.”

University Chaplain Rev. Donald MacGillivray delivered the invocation and Vicar of the Founder, Bishop of Antigonish Rev. Wayne Kirkpatrick, in his remarks told graduates he hopes their time at StFX helps them be good citizens of the world who will reach out to others, especially those in need, to help build a better world. 

Glenn Horne, past president of the StFX Alumni Association, brought greetings on behalf of over 50,000 alumni worldwide, reminding graduates this network is here to support and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them “as your collective potential takes root and changes the world.” 


Emily Sandre

Morning senior class speaker Emily Sandre, a Rankin School of Nursing student from Ottawa, ON, told classmates this is not how we imagined our last year at StFX or how we hoped to be celebrating our convocation. Through it all though, the Class of 2021 has preserved together to keep one another safe, and has contributed much good into the world, and has been the recipient of much goodness. 

Ms. Sandre reflected on the StFX motto, ‘Whatsoever things are true’ and its profound meaning and how it’s been woven into the graduating class’s individual journeys. 

“We are equipped with the knowledge and the experience to go out into the world and continue doing what is true, good and noble, and that is worthy of praise. Thank you, and congratulations to the StFX graduating class of 2021.”

Patti-Anne Tracey

Afternoon senior class speaker, Patti-Anne Tracey, a Schwartz School of Business student from Antigonish, NS, said she is amazed to see the culture the class has built at StFX.

“We did not give up on our ultimate goal of graduating from this special university. In fact, we proved that our StFX community and our graduating class were able to successfully stand up and rise above a global pandemic and lead in extraordinary ways.”

Ms. Tracey gave huge thanks to the many people in the StFX and broader communities who made this year possible, and noted that in 2020, the graduates, like so many, were faced with a question of whether we choose to remain the same person we were before the world flipped or do we choose to grow and transform.

“Graduation doesn’t look like how you thought it would, but then again, neither do we.”

StFX is a special place, due largely to the people, the community and friendships. As you go forward, she said her hope for her class is that they will always chose to lend a hand, to raise each other up, and to deepen relationships.

For a complete list of graduates and award-winners from the Class of 2021, please:

Click here to view the 2pm ceremony Graduate List.

Click here to view the 2pm ceremony medalists.

Click here to view the 6pm ceremony Graduate List.

Click here to view the 6pm ceremony medalists.

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