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Canada’s Man in Motion receives honorary degree at Acadia convocation


Rick Hansen continues to champion accessibility

WOLFVILLE, N.S. —

“The key thing is we only have our stories,” Rick Hansen said. “On our journey here we celebrate tenacity, courage and determination.”


Speaking to Acadia University graduates May 11, Canada’s Man in Motion shared the story that rocked him to the core. At the age of 15, he was thrown against a large steel toolbox while riding in the back of a pickup truck, following a fishing trip. He was paralyzed.


After lying in a hospital bed for what seemed like an eternity, he was not in a good state of mind.

“I had no idea what I was going to do. The world was a black, dark canvas of despair that had to be filled in with colours and shapes.”

Fortunately Hansen said he met a man named Stan Strong, who was injured in the 1930s and in hospital for four years. Strong embodied joy and taught the young teen to practice mindfulness.

Bob Redford, his coach and Phys ed teacher, also encouraged him – even after Hansen was initially not accepted into the University of British Columbia’s Phys ed program.

It was his role models, Hansen said, that enabled him to find hope in the midst of pain. He went on to participate in the 1982 Pan American games in Halifax, in wheelchair track, and then the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, where athletes with disabilities were included for the first time.

Hansen found that he did not have to use his legs to represent his country. He determined that attitudes toward the disabled had to change to remove the kind of barriers he’d faced.

Social justice takes generations, Hansen told the graduates. He added that he is sometimes asked if he wished he could have changed the past.

“There was a time when I would have sold my soul, when I thought God abandoned me in the back of that pick-up truck, but I’d never trade my life now for the use of my legs.”

He said he hoped that “each and every one of you wake up in the morning with a fire in your belly. That you can develop that spirit in this journey toward making the world healthy and inclusive for all.”

Through his foundation, Hansen envisions a national system where future buildings are rated and certified as being accessible, which could then be used to help score a city’s accessibility. The town of Wolfville just released its first plan for accessibility – the first of its kind in the province.

Dr. Nancy Nason-Clark, a scholar, author and speaker, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity. Over 20 years ago, she founded the Religion and Violence Research (RAVE) team at the University of New Brunswick as a means of providing support to families of faith that have been shattered by domestic violence.

Nason-Clark described her work “between the steeple and a shelter” in the face of intimate partner abuse.

She called upon the graduates to practice gratitude, to be part of the solution to societal problems and to choose peace and truth in a world of extremism.

ACADIA U GRADUATES OVER 800

Just over 800 graduates received degrees during Acadia University’s 177th Convocation ceremonies May 12 – 13 in Wolfville.

Acadia president Dr. Peter Ricketts started the ceremony by expressing his pride in Acadia’s graduates.

He spoke of the late Jeremy Ingham who died in late 2018 after receiving a special convocation last October.

“He was a man of substance,” Ricketts said, calling on Ingham’s peers to “be motivated to focus their talents toward the benefit of others.”

“I would like to congratulate all members of Acadia’s Class of 2019,” said Ricketts. “Convocation represents a milestone achievement – not an end but a new beginning – for students and it is a wonderful time to celebrate with family and friends.”

Sunday afternoon’s ceremony featured the first graduating class from Acadia’s Africentric Master of Education Counselling Cohort, an educational partnership between Acadia and the Delmore Buddy Daye Learning Institute.

Designed to address the under-representation of African Nova Scotian counsellors and Africentric perspectives in Nova Scotian school and community services, the School of Education recruited and hired qualified African Nova Scotian counsellors and anti-oppression educators to work with the students in a number of courses, while the institute provided teaching assistance on Africentric perspectives, theory, and practice.

The cohort worked part-time on weekends, evenings, and in summer schools, to complete the degree in the summer of 2018 – adding 17 newly qualified, Africentric, and passionate counsellors to Nova Scotian schools and community agencies.

During the ceremony for this graduating class, Acadia recognized the late Trevor Boyd, a member of that cohort and graduate of Acadia’s Bachelor of Education program who taught in the Chignecto Region. His sister accepted his degree after he died suddenly last year.

Following a tradition that began in 1848, the university conferred five honorary degrees over two days of ceremonies.

The five recipients included: Rick Hansen and Dr. Nancy Nason-Clark on May 12 and on Monday, they were: Dr. Biliana Cicin-Sain, Acadia benefactor David Huestis and Elder Joe Michael.

Dr. Cicin-Sain is a global expert on ocean and coastal governance who leads a global movement to incorporate oceans within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

A Mi’kmaq elder, Joseph Michael, is an inspirational spiritual leader within Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaq community and a retired RCMP officer who developed the RCMP’s Aboriginal Community Policing model that is in use today.

A familiar presence on stage, Ray Ivany was named as Acadia’s first President Emeritus. Ivany served as Acadia’s 15thPresident and Vice-Chancellor from 2009 to 2017.

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