Be kind—it makes all the difference, StFX graduates told at Fall Convocation; Celebrated Canadian playwright Djanet Sears receives honorary degree

Dr. Djanet Sears
Djanet Sears (centre) received an honorary degree from StFX during Fall Convocation 2023. Here, Dr. Sears is pictured with StFX President Dr. Andy Hakin (left) and Chancellor John Peacock.

Joy, and a sense of accomplishment, could readily be felt throughout the Charles V. Keating Centre on Dec. 2 as St. Francis Xavier University graduated nearly 300 students and awarded an honorary degree to celebrated Canadian playwright, acclaimed theatre director, and University of Toronto assistant professor Djanet Sears during Fall Convocation 2023. 

Another special highlight of the ceremony included the presentation of two major honours, the Outstanding Staff Teaching Award, presented to Sherry Neville-MacLean, a lab instructor in the Department of Psychology, and the Outreach Award to Pauline MacIntosh, an adult educator and facilitator at the Coady Institute. 


“A huge congratulations to you on your hard work and dedication, especially when things were hard and not going your way,” Dr. Sears, an award-winning playwright and director and the recipient of numerous awards including a Governor General's Literary Award, Canada's highest literary honour for dramatic writing, told graduates of the Class of 2023.

Fall Convocation
Joy and accomplishment marked Fall Convocation 2023 

As each Xaverian is unique, none of us got here alone, she said. There is an unseen aura of individuals who have made a difference in our lives, people who showed us a special kindness, a generosity of time, she told graduates as she shared with them several individuals who impacted her.

“Kindness is a nourishing water. We are seeds. Something essential grows within when we come into contact with kindness,” Dr. Sears said. 

“Trust me, no act of kindness is ever inconsequential. Kindness is sacred. I implore you to be kind.

“I am here because of the kindness of others. Again, I implore you to be kind.”


“This is your day. How does it feel? Exciting right?” StFX President Dr. Andy Hakin said as he congratulated graduates on this achievement.

Dr. Hakin thanked all the supporters, the family and friends, the faculty and staff, the volunteers, who have helped bring this graduating class forward to this point.

“Why do we do it? The answer is simple. It is to build a better society and to give people the tools and skills to move forward.”

The university’s role is to help provide the tools and skills for this generation to take the lead, to make the social changes to make all our lives better, he said. What happens next matters, he told graduates. “You will lead our society…Do not forget your Xaverian roots.”

Kindness and compassion are not weaknesses, he said. They are strengths beyond measure. “Go and show the world…Let your Xaverian strengths shine forward.” 

Sherry Neville MacLean
Sherry Neville-MacLean (centre) receives the Outstanding Staff Teaching Award from StFX President Dr. Andy Hakin (left) and Chancellor John Peacock. 
Pauline MacIntosh
Pauline MacIntosh (centre) receives the Outreach Award from StFX President Dr. Andy Hakin (left) and Chancellor John Peacock.  


StFX Chancellor John Peacock, who opened and closed convocation, shared a similar message as he acknowledged this is a special day for graduates as well as all those who have assisted them in reaching this milestone. 

Mr. Peacock encouraged the new graduates to work to affect change in this world. 

“Being Xaverian is not simply an ideological concept, it is an opportunity and responsibility to be an outstanding citizen of the global community,” he said. It is important to care about the global collective. Something doesn’t need to land on your doorstep to act to correct injustice.

Being Xaverian means that we care even if we are not personally impacted. Caring must result in action, he said.

“If your time at StFX has taught you anything it is that you can, and you should, do all that you can to make this world a better place.” 

Master of Education graduate and senior class speaker Cheryl (Latimer) Malcolm asked the audience to stand and to cheer as loud as they can—which they did, congratulating the achievements of the Class of 2023. 

Cheryl Malcolm
Cheryl Malcolm 

“My fellow graduates, we made it.”

Ms. Malcolm said we get to decide how we show up in this world. We need to show up as our authentic selves and to create safe spaces for others to be themselves. We’re creating spaces for people where they feel they at home, loved, and connected, she said.  

“I hope you will choose to be changemakers,” she said.  

Norman Sylliboy, Grand Chief of the Mi’kmaq Grand Council, also offered remarks, congratulating the graduates and wishing them well as they embark on their future endeavours. 

University Chaplain Fr. Donald MacGillivray gave the invocation and Bishop Wayne Joseph Kirkpatrick, Vicar of the Founder of StFX, offered the benediction. 

Trevor Gould performed the Mi’kmaw Honour Song and Janet Becigneul sang the national anthem in English, French, Gaelic and Mi’kmaw.

Fall Convocation 2023
Fall Convocation celebration 2023
2023 StFX graduates celebrate with and are congratulated by Chancellor John Peacock (top photo) and StFX President Dr. Andy Hakin (bottom photo.)

Bringing greetings on behalf of the StFX Alumni Association, president Kathleen Sheridan gave a warm welcome to the newest graduates of the StFX alumni family, who she said are not only graduating with a hard earned degree, but also have the benefit of having experienced the Xaverian community.

“In whatever follows, the Alumni Association will be here for you,” Ms. Sheridan said. 
“We can’t wait to see what else you will accomplish.” 


Honorary Degree Recipient 
Djanet Sears

Djanet Sears is a celebrated Canadian playwright, an acclaimed theatre director, and an assistant professor at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto. Her work has graced the stages of Mirvish Productions, Nightwood Theatre, Obsidian Theatre, Black Theatre Workshop, Centaur Theatre, National Arts Centre, the Public Theatre, Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Crossroads Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Soulpepper Theatre, St. Louis Black Repertory, Canadian Stage, and Factory Theatre. Additionally, her plays have been widely published and translated. Her play The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God, won six META Awards (Montreal English Theatre Award), after a successful run at the National Arts Centre and The Centaur Theatre. Harlem Duet, another of her multiple award-winning plays, is a non-chronological prequel to Shakespeare’s Othello, and was featured as part of Nightwood Theatre, Stratford Shakespeare Festival and Tarragon Theatre’s seasons. As well, her production of Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf at Soulpepper Theatre in Toronto, garnered rave reviews and ran to sold-out houses. Dr. Sears has been a Visiting Professor at Stanford University, where she both taught playwriting, and directed a production for the Drama Department.  She has also been awarded a Creative Fellowship at the Royal Shakespeare Company, in association with Warwick University. This fellowship included collaborating as part of the creative team on the world premiere production of Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, a co-production between the RSC in the UK and the National Arts Centre in Canada. Dr. Sears is the recipient of a Governor General's Literary Award (Canada's highest literary honour for dramatic writing), a Canadian Screenwriting Award, the Floyd S. Chalmers Canadian Play Award, the Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award, a Gold Prize at the International Radio Festival of New York, the William Kilbourne Toronto Arts Council Award, a Reel Black Award, and a Harry Jerome Award for Excellence in the Cultural Industries. She has been the artistic director of the AfriCanadian Playwrights Festival. Dr. Sears is a founding member of the Obsidian Theatre Company, and the editor of two anthologies: Testifyin': Contemporary African Canadian Drama, Vols. I & II (firsts of their kind in Canada). She is currently working on two new works for the stage.

Outstanding Staff Teaching Award
Sherry Neville-MacLean, Lab Instructor, Department of Psychology

Sherry Neville-MacLean has been a lab instructor in the Department of Psychology since August 2018. She is described as a flexible, collaborative, highly competent, and trusted colleague who is exceptionally committed to student learning and is always willing to try something new that might benefit students. Her master’s degree in education is reflected in her approach to every lab, her grading, and all interactions with students. Nominators say it is evident that she knows how to teach and that she is confident and comfortable in the classroom. Over the years, she has taken it upon herself to develop new course materials (lectures, assignments, peer assessment tools) that can be used in lab. Many of these served her well when it became necessary to move to online course instruction. She is adept in using Moodle and other programs and has become a go-to person for questions on educational technology. She is an enthusiastic educator. She regularly participates in webinars and reading groups, and she keeps up to date in education literature. Recently, she demonstrated significant leadership in the Brain and Behaviour labs, in which she and Dr. Erin Mazerolle collaboratively introduced a service learning component through which students had opportunity to put their neuroscience skills into practice by planning and running the first-ever Antigonish Brain Bee, a neuroscience competition for high school students.  

Outreach Award
Pauline MacIntosh, Coady Institute

Pauline MacIntosh worked with the StFX Extension Department from 1997 until its merger with the Coady International Institute in 2021, at which time Coady Institute was formed. An experienced adult educator and facilitator, she is passionate about working with groups engaged in asset-based community development, capacity strengthening and education, and leadership for learning and change. Ms. MacIntosh grew up in a family that believed in community and cooperation and this influenced her from an early age. Her service to community has taken many forms, including volunteer canvasser with the Canadian Cancer Society, Tree of Lights volunteer with the Antigonish Guysborough Early Childhood Intervention Program, 4-H leader, speaker and process facilitator, and Lower South River Pre-School board director, among others. Ms. MacIntosh has had immeasurable impact on her community, dedicating countless volunteer hours in numerous capacities over many years. She currently volunteers as Vice Chair of the St. Andrews Community Partnership Board of Directors, an organization comprised of 12 non-profit community-based organizations; Vice Chair of the Antigonish Affordable Housing Society Board of Directors, a non-profit housing organization that owns and operates 28 homes in Antigonish; and Vice Chair of the Nova Scotia Co-operative Council Board of Directors, which serves as the voice of the co-operative movement in Nova Scotia. Ms. MacIntosh truly embodies the spirit of the Antigonish Movement and its emphasis on transformation through community outreach, adult education and collective action. 

Senior Class Speaker
Cheryl (Latimer) Malcolm

Cheryl (Latimer) Malcolm graduates from StFX with a Master of Education degree in Administration & Policy, Inclusive Education. She also graduated from StFX in 2007 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics, again in 2009 with a Bachelor of Education degree, followed by a Master of Education in School Counselling from Acadia University in 2015. She was inducted into StFX’s President’s Circle of Young Alumni in 2009, an honour awarded to outstanding graduating students in recognition of contribution to student life and achievement. Ms. Malcolm has worked as a secondary teacher since 2009, as an Indigenous education support teacher, mathematics teacher, and school counsellor. She is currently on a one-year loan from teaching, to teach in the Faculty of Education at StFX. Born in Antigonish, NS, she grew up in Arichat, Cape Breton, where StFX was originally founded in 1853. Growing up in Cape Breton, she has grown a deep love of the ocean and a spirited energy that keeps her always looking for her next big adventure. She loves mountain biking, roller derby, and playing her guitar. She currently lives in Truro, NS with her partner, Eric, and her children, Roslyn, Lexi, and Evelyn. She is hoping to pursue a PhD in Inclusive Mathematics Education.