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Lakehead University Orillia celebrates its Class of 2016

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

Bonnie Patterson's message to the Class of 2016 at Lakehead University Orillia was simple: get a grip.

Patterson, a champion of higher education and role model for women in leadership was the honourary degree recipient at Saturday's Lakehead convocation ceremony, being awarded a doctor of commerce.

More than 200 students made up the class she spoke to, adding to the more than 3,000 degrees conferred by Lakehead Orillia since the school opened its doors a decade ago.

The students, Patterson hoped, would be “get a grip” and appreciate all they have in front of them, as they look toward their futures. Grip, in this case, was an acronym, standing for gratitude, relationships, integrity and patience and passion.

She looked back on the various addresses she was witness to over the years in her various roles, including as president and vice-chancellor of Trent University. She took those experiences and viewed them through a Simcoe County lens as she prepared for Saturday.

“I was thinking about the fact about in place like Orillia, and in Thunder Bay, there is an extraordinary sense of community, and it's that community the fills your soul, day-to-day,” she said. “When I'm at a place like Lakehead, or Orillia Lakehead, that sense of community comes through.... For (the students) to know, wherever they go, they can make a difference in their community.”

A previous convocation address that stuck with Lakehead Orillia principal Dr. Kim Fedderson inspired the creation of another honour bestowed at the convocation ceremony. Former Simcoe-North MPP Garfield Dunlop was presented with the school's Civitas Award for 2016. It was somewhat fitting that a dedicated lifelong public servant would receive an award created in the wake of another public servant's inspiring address to graduates.

“Lloyd Axworthy gave his convocation address to the students and he talked about the importance of the virtue of civitas; it's the Latin word for civic engagement,” Fedderson said. “It really resonated with me. It was the best convocation speech I've ever heard. Being inspired by that, we created the Civitas Award here at Orillia.”

The highlight of the day for Fedderson and the faculty was to witness the students they've gotten to see grow into young adults receive their diplomas, celebrating the completion of their degrees.

University can be a long, strange and incredible experience. Before the ceremony, many of the students were equal parts excited and reflective about their time at Lakehead.

Education student Rebecca Scott was the Voice of the Class of 2016. The Hanover native recalled how she instantly fell in love with Lakehead Orillia when she first visited the campus.

“It felt like home,” she said. “Originally, I thought I was going to go to Nipissing. I just came and visited the campus with some friends and... I was sold just by the atmosphere. It had all the opportunities I was looking for.”

Th community was what Caitlan Hermann said she'd miss the most.

“In my final year, my professional year, I was really close with the rest of cohort,” she said. “Seeing those people every single day was amazing and we built really good relationships. I can still count on those people for any questions or concerns I have in the future.”

Classmates were near the top of Victor Laforteza's list.

“We're actually the first class to graduate from media studies; there's only six of us,” he said. “That's what I'm going to miss the most.”

Neither Hermann, who was in education, nor Laforteza began their post-secondary career at Lakehead. They made stops along the way before finding a home in the west end of the city.

“I actually went to York in my first year of university,” said Laforteza, who also went to high school in Orillia. “I wanted to have more of a small-class feel. Close to home is always good.”

For Hermann, an Uxbridge native who started out at Algonquin College in Ottawa, the fact that she was graduating didn't feel real.

“I'm a little bit nervous to start the real world. There aren't that many teaching jobs, so that makes me scared,” she said. Nervous as she may be, she has the right amount of confidence to get her on the right page. “But, I'm an amazing educator, so I will get there!”

The next steps the Class of 2016 will have to take was the focus of what Scott said to her peers on graduation day.

“My speech revolves looking at the future,” said Scott, who kept the honour of being Voice of the Class of 2016 secret from friends and family until close to the ceremony. “Tips and advice... what to take with you when you go.

“And following your passion, even if that means you have to turn right around and go back to school again,” she added. “At the end of the day, live a happy life.”



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