Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Look for the positive, be bold, and never stop trying to make a difference, Class of 2023 advised during Spring Convocation 

May 7th, 2023
Moments of celebration and accomplishment were many on the StFX campus during Spring Convocation 2023

Look for the positive, be bold in creating a better future for all, and never stop trying to make a difference were words of advice shared with members of the Class of 2023 on Sunday, May 7th as StFX marked Spring Convocation. 

It was a full weekend of celebration as StFX graduated close to 1,000 students and honoured two individuals for their exemplary and distinguished service, awarding honorary degrees to Dr. John Gaventa, former Coady Institute director and international development leader, and to Dr. Irving Rootman, internationally recognized for four decades of outstanding leadership in health promotion.

Additionally, major honours during morning and afternoon ceremonies included the presentation of the President’s Research Award to Dr. Geniece Hallett-Tapley (Chemistry) and Dr. Erin Mazerolle (Psychology); and the Outstanding Teaching Award to Dr. Christina Holmes (BASc Health), Dr. Mary Oxner (Schwartz School of Business) and Dr. Tammy Rodela (Biology.) (See photos below.) 

A day earlier, on Saturday, May 6th, StFX also hosted a special convocation, welcoming back members from the Classes of 2020 and 2021 whose convocation ceremonies were held virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

Saturday evening, Chancellor John Peacock hosted a new event, the Chancellor’s Reception, in Mulroney Hall, Scholar’s Walk, honouring all award winners. StFX Academic Vice-President & Provost Dr. Amanda Cockshutt emceed the evening. 


“Congratulations to the graduating class,” Dr. Gaventa said in an inspiring address that ended in a standing ovation. 

“Thank you for this enormous honour. It is great to be back at StFX and in Antigonish,” Dr. Gaventa said. “It was a privilege to be director of the Coady Institute and Vice-President International of StFX for a few years, and to come to know this wonderful community.” 

Dr. John Gaventa

He gave special thanks to former and current staff and asked those in attendance to stand as they share in this award. “Thank you. You’re a great team.”

Moses Coady, the StFX leader for which the Coady Institute is named, had a vision of using education to build leadership to help communities get the good and abundant life, he said. 

“Please be bold in the fight,” Dr. Gaventa told graduates as he spoke about challenges facing the world, including climate change, global inequality, and global democratic decline.

Moses Coady, Jimmy Tompkins and others in the Antigonish Movement taught us that change will not come by focusing on what’s wrong, but through recognizing and building our assets, he said. 

“As you graduate today, the Class of 2023, you carry with you many assets. You graduate from StFX, a great educational institute shaped by the values of social justice, grounded in the principle of acting on ‘whatsoever is true,’ and guided by respect, compassion for others, service and integrity.”

Dr. Gaventa shared lessons he’s learned: Don’t worry if you don’t have your life planned, he said. Keep walking, keep making your path. Keep learning. Your education doesn’t stop with graduation. 

“Finally, believe in the power of small steps.” 

Very rarely in our lifetime will major change come in one swoop. In walking together, small footpaths can become a major thoroughfare toward that better world, that full and abundant life. 


“Look for the positive and let it guide you in your life,” Dr. Rootman advised graduates in his address, which was prerecorded and played at the ceremony as he was unable to attend. 

“I’m not saying that this is going to resolve all the problems in the world, but perhaps if everyone emphasizes the positive, it can help us avoid or at least minimize the dystopian world that we see represented daily in the news as well as our own observations and experiences.”  

A degree from StFX, he said, will help equip you to engage in community and help resolve these problems facing the world. 

Dr. Rootman said he really appreciates this honour, at the end of his long career in health promotion, especially since it comes from StFX, one of Canada’s oldest and most prestigious universities with values of integrity and dignity and a focus on leadership, social justice, and community development, all of which promote health in the population. 


“Class of 2023, well done,” StFX President Dr. Andy Hakin said in his remarks, which encouraged graduates to remember their Xaverian values as they move forward. 

“They will stand you in good stead.”

The world needs change, he said. The problems are massive. You have the skills, the ability, the understanding of what questions are important. 

“Never stop asking those questions. Never stop trying to make a difference,” he told students as he encouraged them to include kindness and compassion in everything they do, leading with Xaverian values as they create a better society for all. 

“As a university, that is why we are here.”

StFX President Dr. Andy Hakin

Dr. Hakin spoke about the graduates’ resilience, strength, and accomplishment, especially as they completed their education through the rollercoaster of a global pandemic.  

“You really found the essence of StFX,” he said about this journey. “It’s about people, people coming together, and learning to live together.” 

As you turn the page in this journey, be confident in your ability, he said. You’re prepared. 

He also congratulated family and friends for all their support of the graduates. 

Dr. Hakin also recognized Dean of Arts Dr. Karen Brebner, nearing the end of her term as dean, for her many contributions—and wished her a happy birthday. 


“I’ve had the privilege of presiding over nine convocations,” Chancellor Peacock told the graduating class as he opened convocation, “and I’m always inspired as I look out, as I am right now, at you, the graduating class, I can feel your joy, your sense of accomplishment, and also a bit of anxiety for what the future holds.”

Over the last few years, you’ve had the benefit of a StFX education, and I know it’s provided you with learning experiences well beyond the classroom, he said as the told graduates it is his hope that when they leave here today, they will remember the Xaverian commitment, of leading a life of thought and purpose, to act well, and do their best.

StFX Chancellor John Peacock

Ryder Ferris, a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy graduate from Bristol, Rhode Island, gave the acknowledgement of the graduating class during the morning ceremony, while Dhruv Patel, a BASc-Health graduate from India, addressed the afternoon ceremony.   

“Find something you care about, and help others,” Mr. Ferris said to a standing ovation in remarks that touched on the importance of the many little moments at StFX noting that “a part of our hearts will forever be here.” Among many lessons, StFX, he said, has taught the importance of friendship and community.  

Mr. Patel recognized family, friends and all those who have helped shaped graduates into who they are today. 

Be the change you wish to see in your world, he said as he also congratulated classmates in an address that received a standing ovation. 

Alumni Association president Kathleen Sheridan reflected on this important milestone and led a round of applause recognizing all who have helped see graduates through to this finish line. “In whatever follows, the Alumni Association will be here for you,” she said as she encouraged the newest StFX alumni to become involved. “Congratulations and welcome to Canada’s most engaged alumni network,”

“Today, we’re celebrating your graduation,” Kerry Prosper, StFX Elder in Residence, said in remarks as he offered a deep, warm welcome. The journey is not finished, however, he said, it’s the beginning of a new journey. We don’t know what the future will hold. “But today I can say I have hope.”

Vicar of the Founder, Most Reverend Wayne Kirkpatrick, Bishop of Antigonish, offered the benediction. Father Donald MacGillivray, University Chaplain, offered the invocation. 

Also during the ceremony, Janet Becigneul sang O Canada in English, French, Mi’kmaq and Gaelic. Michelle LeBrun and Trevor Gould performed the Mi’kmaq Honour Song.

For a complete list of graduates and medal recipients, along with honorary degree recipient and faculty award bios, please see HERE

Dr. Erin Mazerolle

Dr. Mary Oxner 

Dr. Christina Holmes

Dr. Geniece Hallett-Tapley

Dr. Tammy Rodela 

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