Third day of Spring Convocation focuses on health and community service

The third day of Niagara College’s 2019 Spring Convocation saw two of Niagara’s most influential health and community advocates share their life experiences and advice with Niagara College graduates.

In the morning ceremony, Dr. M. Mustafa Hirji, Niagara Region Public Health’s acting medical officer of health and commissioner of public health and emergency services addressed graduates in the college’s School of Justice and Fitness Studies, and School of Allied Health. He was also awarded an Honorary Diploma in Health Studies. 

Hirji, a medical doctor who also holds a Master’s of Public Health in Epidemiology from the University of Toronto and honours Bachelor degrees in Engineering Physics and Political Sciences, is charged with protecting the health of Niagara’s 450,000 residents, as well as the 15 million annual visitors to the region. He is a strong proponent of the social determinants of health, exploring how socioeconomic conditions affect health outcomes, and is also dedicated to education, supervising medical students who are training in public health and preventative medicine.

Hirji urged graduates in the morning ceremony to see their graduation as a milestone on a path of continuous learning. “Learning never ceases,” he said. “The true value of your postsecondary experience is that it sets you up for accelerated learning going forward.”

Hirji went on to discuss his own path of learning and how that path has been shaped by his experiences exploring the social determinants of health. He imparted several pieces of advice to the graduates. He urged them to work collaboratively with others in order to solve some of the most pressing and complex health and social issues of our time. He also said the social and organizational structures in which we operate are less important than making meaningful connections with the people we serve, and challenged graduates to look past their own personal and social biases, to try and understand others.

In the afternoon ceremony, Betty-Lou Souter, CEO of Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold, addressed graduates in the School of Academic and Liberal Studies, the School of English Language Studies, and the School of Nursing and Personal Support Worker Studies.  Souter, whose name has become synonymous with the word “community” in Niagara, has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of Niagara’s most vulnerable, through her 25 years with Community Care, and through her involvement with other organizations like Pathstone Mental Health, the Niagara Workforce Planning Board and others.

Souter was also awarded an Honorary Bachelor Degree in Applied Studies as part of the ceremony.

She began her address to graduates by acknowledging their accomplishments. “You are here today because of your hard work, and your commitment to a goal you set for yourself years ago.”

Souter went on to share her life’s journey from a postsecondary education in the fine arts to a career in community service, two fields in which she finds symmetry. For in those she serves though her work, she sees “a colourful canvas. Within them is a piece of art that simply needs restoration. Within them is a work of human art.” Souter also encouraged graduates to value the importance of their work, and the tremendous difference it can make it the lives of those they serve.

“You will have an impact on the lives of others, making our community, and the communities where you live, a healthier place to live, play and grow. You are well positioned for future success, and our world will be a better place because of each and every one of you.”

Finally, she urged graduates to be bold in the pursuit of meaning and impact. “I encourage you to accept that challenge to ensure everyone has the ability to live with dignity and purpose,” she said.

“Don’t follow the path, but create a path for others to follow.”

Spring Convocation ceremonies continue June 20 – 21 at the Welland Campus. Over 5,100 students from more than 90 countries will graduate over a total of eight ceremonies. Grads and guests attending the college’s remaining ceremonies will hear from a diverse roster of distinguished speakers:

·Carolyne Watts is the plant manager for General Motors, St. Catharines Propulsion Plant, and a former chair of the Niagara College Board of Governors. She will receive an Honorary Bachelor Degree in Applied Studies. (Thursday, 10 a.m.)

·Mike Crawley is an Ontario provincial affairs reporter for CBC News. He will receive an Honorary Diploma in Journalism. (Thursday, 3 p.m.)

·Kelly L. Brown is Senior Vice-President, Legal and Corporate Affairs for Arterra Wines Canada will receive an Honorary Graduate Certificate in Wine Business Management (Friday, 10 a.m.)

Thursday, June 20 will also be a milestone for the College, as it will see the first cohort of graduates from the college’s Commercial Cannabis Production program at the 10 a.m. ceremony. The Graduate Certificate program is the first of its kind in Canada, and was launched in the fall of 2018 to meet a significant demand for qualified, professional workers in Canada’s pioneering cannabis industry.

Friday, June 21 will mark another group of pioneer graduates, as the first class of NC’s unique Artisan Distilling (Graduate Certificate) grads cross the stage, ready to become leaders in Ontario’s burgeoning craft distilling sector.

Niagara College offers more than 130 diploma, bachelor degree and advanced level programs as well as more than 600 credit, vocational and general interest Part-Time Studies courses. Areas of specialization include food and wine sciences, advanced technology, media, applied health and community safety, supported by unique learning enterprises in food, wine, beer, spirits, horticulture and esthetics. For more information visit

Photo caption: Niagara College President Dan Patterson presents Dr. M. Mustafa Hirji, acting medical officer of health and commissioner of public health and emergency services for Niagara Region with an Honorary Diploma in Health Studies at the Wednesday morning celebration of Niagara College’s Spring 2019 Convocation on June 19.