Honorary degree recipient tells Brock’s Class of 2021 to learn from the past to build the future
When former Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Chief Ava Hill was presented with an honorary doctorate from Chancellor Hilary Pearson during Brock University’s Fall Convocation Friday, Oct. 15, it represented the completion of an important goal she set out to achieve many years earlier.
Hill was born on the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve and attended elementary school there before heading to high school in Brantford and Hagersville.
“When I graduated, I wasn’t encouraged to continue my education,” she said. “Nobody even told me it was a possibility I could consider. I had often thought about going back to school to get a degree, but with various job demands and looking after a household, I never found the time. So now to receive this honorary doctorate fills that gap that I had always regretted was left in my life.”
Hill received the honorary degree Friday during a livestream of Brock’s 110th Convocation ceremony. Due to public health restrictions, a traditional Convocation event couldn’t be held, so the students were invited to watch the livestreamed ceremony with their families and friends and then visit a personalized Convocation Portal.
In her address to the Class of 2021, Hill said that, as an Indigenous woman and leader, she felt privileged that the degree was coming at a time when “more and more people are becoming aware of a dark part of the history of this country.”
“I believe and feel this is a clear demonstration of the commitment of Brock University to move forward with reconciliation and I’m happy to accept this degree on behalf of all Indigenous people.”
Hill served 15 years on the Six Nations Elected Council including two terms as Elected Chief. She encouraged the Brock graduates to take the time to learn about Indigenous Peoples and all cultures.
“If we all move forward in the spirit of reconciliation and learn more about each other’s culture, then perhaps we can begin to eliminate the racism and stereotyping that exists around the world today. To build for the future, we must learn from the past,” she said.
Addressing the Class of 2021 watching from around the world, Brock University Interim President Lynn Wells spoke about the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the opportunity the unique situation has presented.
The past 18 months have created the chance to “reshape our society into something more equitable, more sustainable, more caring and more just,” she said to the virtual audience. “You are graduating at a significant moment in our country’s history, and we’ll be looking to you — our leaders of the not-so-distant-future — to help us do this.”
Wells assured the graduates that although complex issues are on the horizon — including those related to climate change, affordable housing and finding truth and reconciliation with Indigenous communities — they are not insurmountable.
“No matter what you studied, your time at Brock has prepared you for anything the world may throw your way,” she said. “The critical thinking and analytical skills honed during your time here will serve you particularly well in the coming years, and I urge you to use them with the goal of becoming a more aware, more engaged and more connected global citizen.”
Brock University Chancellor Hilary Pearson reminded the graduates of the obstacles they faced head-on in order to reach Convocation.
“You have had to participate in and perform through unprecedented remote learning. You have been asked to do things that you could not have imagined. And you have been missed on campus in ways that you could not have predicted or wanted,” she said. “Yet, you admirably rose to meet these challenges, and you have arrived successfully at this graduation day.
A full recording of Brock’s Fall Convocation ceremony can be found on YouTube here.
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