At the start of every academic year, we welcome new students to our campus with a special ceremony where they receive their T-Pin, a symbol of our small, tight-knit community of students and scholars.
We held a similar ceremony last week. It was in a different location, but the students involved demonstrated the same youthful energy, optimism and hunger for higher learning as is shown by our first-year students on campus.
We welcomed 15 First Nations students into our academic community in a T-Pin Ceremony held at the Elsipogtog First Nation. The students are taking St. Thomas English and mathematics courses at Elsipogtog and upon completion, they will have the opportunity to transfer to our Bachelor of Arts program.
We were enthusiastically welcomed at Elsipogtog and we, in turn, welcomed these new students into our STU community.
I told them that while a university education may be one of the most challenging endeavours they have ever undertaken, it also has the potential to be the most rewarding. We know what skills a liberal arts education can bring to an individual: critical thinking and analysis, clear and persuasive communication, and collaborative problem-solving skills.
For more than one hundred years STU has educated leaders in many fields. We have educated teachers, social workers, lawyers, writers, members of parliaments and legislatures, diplomats, doctors, journalists, a prime minister, a premier, business leaders, environmental activists.… a list as long as our 17,000 alumni.
I reminded the young students that we are proud of our graduates because of the contributions they make to their communities. And we are proud that they got their start at STU, just as these young students are doing now.
Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock told the students that he can look at the group without worry, knowing they’ve taken control of their own destiny.
“I wish they had a program like this when I went to St. Thomas,” Chief Sock said. “Our community coming together with St. Thomas will help a lot of young people go through it and graduate and break the perception that First Nations get free education but don’t use it.”
Chief Sock is right. St. Thomas University currently has 150 Aboriginal students and, based on recent experience, not only will the majority graduate, but also ten per cent will make the Dean’s List and ten per cent will go on to pursue a second or higher degree.
These young students at Elsipogtog have many First Nations role models to look to, including many who received their undergraduate degree at STU.
These STU alumni include Pam Palmater, a university professor of politics and public administration at Ryerson University who ran for National Chief of the Assemblies of First Nations, and Bernard Francis, winner of the 2013 Atlantic Aboriginal Business Leadership Award.
As St. Thomas has attracted a growing number of First Nations students, we’ve made changes to our campus. We recently added a new Aboriginal Student Centre and welcome signs on campus in Mi’kmaq and Maliseet. And we have initiated an Elder-in-Residence Program which has brought Miigam’agan, a member of the Mi’kmaq Nation, to campus to provide support and encouragement to students, as well as a First Nations counsellor and a coordinator of Aboriginal Student Services.
At STU, we say the “T” is worn with pride, world-wide.
So whether a student is from New Brunswick, another province, one of the 30 countries represented on our campus, or from Elsipogtog, each is a member of our family of students and scholars.
Dawn Russell is the President of St. Thomas University.