New tradition with a poetic twist

May 26, 2005, vol. 33, no. 3
By Howard Fluxgold



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When former president Jack Blaney first contemplated the prospect of graduating students speaking at convocation chances are he never thought the event would turn into a poetry reading.

However, Mathew Nashlenas, who will speak at the morning ceremony on June 2, is writing a poem to present his thoughts.

“I want to tell the audience what it takes to get a degree - the trials and tribulations and the reward, when its all over, of knowing you can complete something successfully,” explains Nashlenas, who graduates with a bachelor of arts in English.

Nashlenas, 27, initially attended a Washington state college on a baseball scholarship. However, he injured his shoulder and after his first year returned to the Lower Mainland, attending Douglas college before transferring to SFU.

He is planning to spend the next year writing about his Doukabhor ancestors. “I want to look at the religious, political and social reasons why they left Russia and came to North America in the early 1900s,” he says.

He notes, for example, that famous Russian author Leo Tolstoy helped to finance their migration.

Students began speaking at convocation in 1998 and it has since become a popular tradition. At the time, a member of the SFU student society asked Blaney why there weren't any student speakers at convocation.

“I couldn't think of any reason why not,” Blaney said, “and lots of reasons for doing so. Convocation is a time of celebration and students are absolutely central to that. It just makes sense and is so appropriate to have a student speaker.”

Speakers are nominated by faculty and staff and Ron Heath, dean of student services and registrar selects six - one for each of the six ceremonies.Other speakers are:

Rosaline Greenwood
Winner of the Robert Brown award for academic achievement and community leadership, Greenwood will speak at the morning ceremony on June 1. She graduates with a 4.02 grade point average (GPA) out of 4.33 and an honour bachelor of arts in criminology. Her thesis, titled Cowboys and Eco-Freaks, compares environmental enforcement in British Columbia and Alberta. “The literature predicts that jurisdictions characterized by conservatism will have poor environmental enforcement strategies, but when you look at B.C. and Alberta you find the opposite, especially under the Liberal government,” Greenwood points out. “My thesis explains why there is a disparity between what the literature says and what is really happening.” Greenwood will attend law school at the University of Alberta where her father is associate dean in the faculty of business.

Nicholas Bell
Bell, who is graduating with a bachelor of arts in political science, plans to take a year off to work for an international organisation like the UN or NATO. He then hopes to pursue a master of arts in contemporary arts, which was his minor as an undergrad. Bell, who addresses convocation on the afternoon of June1, says he plans to speak about “the value of a liberal arts degree. How you make use of it in the real world.”

Bell's father K.C. is director of special projects at SFU. He credits him with setting a high academic standard. “Dad always told me to put in the effort.”

David Brokenshire
Brokenshire has had a back and forth relationship with SFU beginning his academic career in computer science on Burnaby Mountain before transferring to TechBC. He returned to the fold when SFU took over TechBC creating SFU Surrey. He will speak at the afternoon ceremony on June 2 when he will receive his bachelor of science in information technology. As a student politician he says he got a first-hand look at the merger, which he found was a difficult process.

However, he says, “There have been positive effects from the merger and I learned a lot from the process.” Next year, Brokenshire plans to do his master of science in the school of interactive arts and technology part time while working in the technology industry part-time.

Tiffany Jung
Jung is the deans convocation medal winner in the faculty of business administration graduating with the top marks in her class - a gpa of 4.14 out of a possible 4.33. She has also won a $10,000 scholarship to attend law school next year at the University of Western Ontario.

Jung, who speaks at the morning ceremony on June 3, plans to focus “on dedication. How students dedicate themselves to the university and how faculty dedicate themselves to both their research and helping us learn.”

Vanessa French
French says she “wanted to be a speaker since my first semester at SFU. I was walking by a convocation ceremony and stopped to listen to a student speaker. I thought that it would be a bookend to my university career. It would give it some finality.

“I had a good experience here and I plan to speak about the good, bad and inspiring.” French, who addresses the afternoon ceremony on June 3, earned a bachelor of science in biological sciences.

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