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  • Convocation approaches: Memorial announces honorary degree recipients

    Tuesday, April 11, 2023
    News Releases

    An annual rite of passage, Memorial's spring convocation will see nearly 2,800 degrees, including more than 600 graduate degrees, conferred.

    Convocation takes place at the Corner Brook Arts and Culture Centre on May 18 and at the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre from May 30–June 2.

    Memorial will also recognize 14 people for their leadership in cultural, academic and social spheres with the awarding of honorary degrees.

    At Grenfell Campus, honorary degrees will be presented to Come From Away creators, Irene Sankoff and David Hein; artist and bhangra dancer, Gurdeep Pandher; and Indigenous advocate and volunteer, Odelle Pike.


    David Hein and Irene Sankoff

    Together, they are the creators of the Broadway musical sensation, Come From Away.

    Ms. Sankoff has degrees in psychology, creative writing and acting. Mr. Hein has a theatre degree from York University, where the couple met.

    On 9/11, they were living in New York City in a residence for international students.

    In those early days of fear and uncertainty, Ms. Sankoff, Mr. Hein and their neighbours from around the world took care of one another — a profound experience that the couple drew on years later.

    Come From Away tells the story of the uncommon generosity and kindness of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians as they took in and cared for 7,000 stranded passengers that day.

    Crafted from the stories they absorbed when Ms. Sankoff and Mr. Hein came to Gander in 2011 to celebrate the 10-year reunion of the "plane people" and the "islanders," Come From Away shows how connections can be forged under the most challenging of circumstances, instills lost faith in the goodness of humanity and swells the heart with pride of place.

    Come From Away won three Dora Awards, four Helen Hayes Awards, five Outer Critics Circle Awards and three Drama Desk awards. The Tony- and Grammy-nominated couple won Best Score and Best Musical at the Olivier Awards.

    Come From Away continues to play live around the globe and on AppleTV+. The couple is currently working on projects for Netflix, Disney and more.

    For creating a deeply moving piece of art and showing the world the best of Newfoundland and Labrador's spirit, Irene Sankoff and David Hein will receive the degree of doctor of letters, honoris causa, on May 18 during the 7 p.m. session of convocation in Corner Brook.


    Gurdeep Pandher

    Gurdeep Pandher is an internationally known, Yukon-based Sikh author, teacher and performer who has made, and continues to make, extraordinary contributions to society and our collective well-being by sharing bhangra dancing with the world.

    Mr. Pandher moved to Canada from his ancestral village, Siahar, in his native Punjab in 2006; he became a Canadian citizen in 2011.

    He completed a bachelor of education degree from Yukon University and a master's degree in public administration from Panjab University.

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, he posted daily videos of himself dancing traditional Punjabi bhangra folk dance in the outdoor setting of his remote cabin in the Yukon as a way of spreading hope and joy.

    Apart from the physical and mental uplift created through his dance movement, another meaningful side of Mr. Pandher's work is building inter-racial and cross-cultural bridges. He has collaborated with people and artists from many different backgrounds, including Indigenous artists, to build a deeper understanding of multicultural Canada.

    He also promotes inclusivity in sport, the military, charities and non-profit organizations. In 2017 he performed with Stephanie Dixon, a Canadian Paralympic Games medallist. In 2019 he collaborated with the Canadian Armed Forces to create a video to celebrate diversity and inclusivity in the military. He held free dance workshops with Doctors Without Borders and the Canadian Mental Health Association.

    In 2021 Mr. Pandher received the Canadian Public Relations Society National President's Award for Outstanding Public Relations and Communications Management.

    Also in 2021, he received the Royal Canadian Geographical Society's Louie Kamookak Medal for making Canada's geography better known to Canadians and to the world.

    For using his kinetic art to promote inclusivity and spread optimism, joy and light in a dark time, Gurdeep Pandher will receive the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, on May 18 during the 3 p.m. session of convocation in Corner Brook.


    Odelle Pike

    Odelle Pike grew up in a strong traditional Mi'kmaw family in St. George's, N.L.

    She is president of the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women's Network, the founder of the People of the Dawn Indigenous Friendship Centre, director of the Ulnooweg Development Corp. and a respected Mi'kmaw elder.

    She holds a certificate in business administration from Memorial University, which led to the ownership of a successful outfitting business. During her years as a businessperson, Ms. Pike often gave back to her community to support economic development opportunities.

    As a community advocate, Ms. Pike is passionate about cultural revitalization, sustainability, mental health and supporting members of the LGBTQ community facing gender-based violence and the women and families impacted by the murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls crisis.

    She has played a leadership role for 40 years in the figure skating world, focusing on investing in the physical and mental well‐being of youth. She has served as the western regional director and on the board of Skate Canada N.L.

    Since her retirement in 2011, Ms. Pike has concentrated on empowering Indigenous men, women, youth and diverse peoples to realize their full potential.

    She is the recipient of the 2000 Skate Canada N.L. Volunteer of Excellence Award; the 2008 City of Corner Brook Citizen of the Year Award; the 2008 Newfoundland and Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs Visionary Award; the 2010 Ulnooweg Development Group Lifetime Achievement Award; the Governor General of Canada–Sovereign's Medal for Volunteers in 2017; and the Order of Newfoundland of Labrador in 2019.

    For her dedicated Indigenous leadership and for the depth and breadth of her community service within the province, in social justice issues and in sport, Odelle Pike will receive the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, on May 18 during the 10 a.m. session of convocation in Corner Brook.


    At St. John's campus honorary degrees will be awarded to renowned gender and politics scholar, Dr. Sylvia Bashevkin; National Film Board executive and film producer, Annette Clarke; Fisher's Loft owners and arts patrons, John and Peggy Fisher; global leader of cancer research, Dr. David Huntsman; master of circus and the physical arts, Beni Malone; filmmaker and mentor, Derek Norman; Sharing Our Cultures founder and CEO, Dr. Lloydetta Quaicoe; CEO of Mary Brown's Chicken and philanthropist, Gregory Roberts; and community developer and arts champion, Susan Sherk.

    Grenfell Campus ceremonies will be available at www.grenfell.mun.ca, and ceremonies from St. John's will be broadcast live on www.mun.ca during each session of convocation. The recorded broadcasts will be archived on Memorial's convocation website for future viewing.


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