Student suggestion leads to new tradition

May 27, 2004, vol. 30, no. 3
By Howard Fluxgold

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When a member of the SFU student society asked President Jack Blaney why there weren't any student speakers at convocation in 1998, a new tradition was born on Burnaby Mountain.

“I couldn't think of any reason why not,” Blaney said at the time, “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.”

The tradition has become a popular one, with faculty and staff nominating deserving students and Ron Heath, dean of student services and registrar selecting six - one for each of the six ceremonies.

Peter Liljedahl

Traditionally, it has been students addressing their peers, parents, friends and relatives. But for Peter Liljedahl it will also be a teacher addressing some of his students. Liljedahl, a Governor General's gold medal winner, is graduating with a doctorate in education, but he has also been a sessional instructor since starting his degree in 2000.

Recently, the former Lord Byng secondary school mathematics and physics teacher was hired by the faculty of education as an assistant professor, beginning in September.

He initially had no intention of switching to the university level. “I started my masters for personal development but when a professor suggested I move directly to the doctoral program without finishing the masters I applied and was accepted,” he explains.

Liljedahl, who will speak at the afternoon ceremony on June 4, received his bachelor of science in mathematics from SFU as well.

Other speakers are:

Chris Tait

Tait, who earns his bachelor of arts with the top undergraduate marks in the department of criminology, will address the morning ceremony on June 2.

Tait transferred to SFU from Kwantlen College and was able to combine a heavy off-campus workload and academics to achieve a 3.91 cumulative grade point average (GPA) out of 4.33.

He worked as a cook for 25-30 hours a week at the Earl's restaurant near his Delta home.

“They were flexible about my hours, but with all my school work I barely found time to sleep,” he says. His high marks earned him acceptance to the graduate criminology program at SFU.

Basia Pakula

Pakula, from Warsaw, Poland, is graduating with an honours bachelor of arts in political science. She attended a United World College of the Adriatic in Italy where she learned about SFU from Heath.

Pakula is continuing her academic career at Harbour Centre where she has been admitted to the masters program in public policy. “I want to get my doctorate and teach at university,” she says, “but I also want to work in government first to gain practical experience and see how public policy is implemented.

Meanwhile, Pakula has decided to use her campus experience as a theme for her speech.

“I am going to focus on community and link it back to my experience in residence life,” explains Pakula who lived in residence for four years.

Jessica Carey

Carey, who graduates with an honours bachelor of arts in English, plans to “stress the uniqueness of an SFU experience” in her speech to convocation on the morning of June 3. “I want to focus on the idea that SFU is a school that doesn't dictate what your path is,” she explains. “It is very important for students to figure out for themselves what they want to do. You have to be very self-directed or self motivated.”

Carey plans to take a year off to work and travel before going to graduate school. In the meantime, she is helping to organize a poetry festival at SFU slated for July 2-3 with many local poets including Evelyn Lau.

Eric Hennessey

When Hennessey entered SFU in 1998 he said he wanted to start his own company - and he did just that. “I started a company called Helius Designs Inc. to apply some of the skills I was learning, supplement my education and my income and get some practical experience,” says Hennessy, who graduates with a bachelor of applied sciences.

Hennessey, who earned several academic awards as an undergrad, also launched the SFU branch of Engineers Without Borders “modelled on Doctors Without Borders,” notes Hennessey who will speak at the afternoon ceremony on June 3. Hennessey's speech will focus on “the transition of graduation, knowledge as a component of the complete individual, and the measurement of success.”

Reshma Chaskar

Dean's medal winner Chaskar has already landed a job with Accenture, an information technology firm, but says she “loves the academic environment. “I can see myself returning after a few years of business experience,” says Chaskar, who graduates with a bachelor of business administration. She will speak about leadership when she addresses convocation on the morning of June 4.

Chaskar became interested in studying business at high school. “ I was able to take accounting, marketing and economics classes from Grade 10, and I started gravitating toward business classes,” she recalls.

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