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e-dition - October 20, 2006

UWinnipeg Confers HDs on Sister Lesley & Nancy Olivieri

By Ilana Simon

The University of Winnipeg conferred Honorary Doctorates on Sister Lesley Sacoumen and Dr. Nancy Olivieri, presented Dr. Rayleen De Luca with the Distinguished Alumni Award, and recognized faculty members Xiao-Yuan Dong and Dwight Vincent at its 82nd Convocation held Sunday, October 15, 2006.

President and Vice-Chancellor Lloyd Axworthy noted that the vocations of Sister Lesley, Nancy  Olivieri, and Rayleen De Luca demonstrate qualities of independence, leavened by courage, and tempered by understanding. "They have used their positions to choose a course that is not driven by prevailing myths or pressures of power. They each in their own way seek to improve the human condition and we are all dignified by their presence and must take to heart their example," Dr. Axworthy said.

Sister Lesley SacoumanSister Lesley Sacouman

In accepting her Honorary Doctor of Divinity, Sister Lesley addressed the graduating class, asking, "Where do you stand- both literally and figuratively? It is critical to determine where you stand, what you see, what you hear, and what seizes your imagination.  It affects everything from what gets you up in the morning to what brings you joy and gratitude to what breaks your heart."

Winnipeg’s Rossbrook House has provided a safe haven for tens of thousands of children since it was founded by Sister Lesley and Sister Gerlanine MacNamara in 1976. For many of the young people who visit Rossbrook House daily, it’s a “home away from home” that is always welcoming, and most importantly, safe. The drop-in centre that serves as the heart of Rossbrook House offers a place where youth can meet their needs for socialization, recreation, personal development, an crisis intervention. In 1999, Sister Lesley was named a member of the Maclean's Honour Roll. 

When she and Sister Geraldine founded Rossbrook House, it was in response to the broken single parent families they encountered in the inner-city who were struggling through life, and the youth wandering the streets and turning to alcohol and drugs for respite and refuge.  "All we heard was crying, abusive language, sirens...and then silence," she recalls. "All of this affected us deeply and shook us to the core. We could walk away too or we could stand with them and make sure there was a safe place for children to be."

Sister Lesley concluded, "We all have a responsibility. Our world needs a critical mass of people with talent and different gifts to push down barriers and stand in solidarity with the disenfranchised, the oppressed and those who suffer beyond measure...where will you stand? Together, with them you can turn the tide of violence, environmental cirise and leave a legacy of hope."

Dr. Nancy OlivieriDr. Nancy Olivieri

"Today is a tremendous honour," Dr. Nancy Olivieri told the graduates."You have worked hard to earn a degree from this revered university."

Dr. Nancy Olivieri was honoured by The University Winnipeg for her contribution as a defender of academic freedom and research integrity. In 1996, Olivieri found that the drug she was researching at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto was showing unexpected potential risks to some patients in the trials. The drug company sponsoring her research abruptly terminated the trials and issued warnings of legal action against Olivieri should she inform her patients of the risks, or publish her findings.

Despite these warnings, Olivieri published her findings in the New England Journal ofand was subsequently dismissed from her position. After more than seven years of legal battle, an independent committee of inquiry into the matter vindicated Olivieri and concluded that neither the university nor the hospital offered her appropriate support in her conflict with the drug company. Olivieri was reinstated to her position at the Hospital for Sick Children and her actions have also been vindicated by several other independent reports."My story has received many different definitions -- Professor Arthur Schafer, one of Canada’s leading ethics scholars, called it 'the greatest academic scandal of our time.'At crucial moments of choice, most of the business of choosing is already over. We have chosen by how we have lived our lives up until this point. Then our lives choose for us.” 

She added, that some choices are not really choices, "You have a duty and the decision is made according to your  conscience. As Emerson noted, it may perhaps be true that one cannot have a sense of justice without a sense of injustice.

"Grace is crucial in a moment of choice. In all choices, Let Light & Truth Flourish," she said, repeating the motto found on The University of Winnipeg coat of arms. "I am delighted to accept this degree from your University as an immeasurable honor to me, my colleagues, and my family.

Rayleen De Luca

Rayleen De Luca was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award. De Luca, already a parent herself when she started her studies at UWinnipeg in 1979, knew right from the start that she wanted to follow her passion for working with kids. Today she is a clinical psychologist and a Psychology professor at the University of Manitoba. In addition to her research, which covers the spectrum of trauma that can occur to children, De Luca is also much sought after as a workshop lecturer. Recently, De Luca was part of a delegation from the Catholic Women’s League that brought the issues of child safety, poverty, and human trafficking before the Prime Minister of Canada.

UWinnipeg professors Xiau-Yuan Dong & Dwight Vincent

Professor Xiao-Yuan Dong received the Erica and Arnold Rogers Award for Excellence in Research and Scholarship for her many contributions to the University, its students, and the academic community. Professor Dong studies the policy and social changes that are accompanying China’s economic development and its transition from a central planning economy to a market economy. Dong is organizing a training program for Chinese women economists to learn how to apply modern research techniques to studying the impacts of new economic policies on women. She also supports the economists with mentoring.

Professor Dwight Vincent was awarded the Clarence Atchison Award for Excellence Excellence in Community Service for his tireless efforts to promote the ancient game of chess and ensure that chess is accessible to any member of the community with an interest.Vincent serves on the Board of Directors of the Manitoba Chess Association and acts as its junior coordinator. He also plays an active role in the Manitoba Scholastic Chess Association and helped establish a regular chess program for inner-city youth at the University’s Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre.

For more on Autumn Convocation 2006, visit the Convocation website.

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