Looking back to the future
by Bryan Weismiller
This year’s convocation ceremony won’t be watched from church pews, but it will still be reminiscent of the school’s first celebrations, which were often held in Methodist churches. Mount Royal University’s commitment to students and unique culture have been acknowledged in valedictory speeches for the past 100 years and they’re likely going to be important themes at the fall 2010 convocation ceremony on Nov. 5.
Nori Sinclair, a graduate of the journalism program and this year’s valedictorian, said that Mount Royal has been a good fit for her. “I felt that it was a diverse, generally positive place to spend time,” Sinclair said. “It has a very different feel on- campus than (the University of Calgary) or other universities; the energy is just different somehow.” She added: “I liked the size of Mount Royal and the emphasis on the practical. I got the opportunity to actually do journalism.”
During her time at Mount Royal, Sinclair was named editor-in-chief of the Calgary Journal, the journalism program’s monthly newspaper. Brad Simm, an instructor who heads up production of the Calgary Journal, described Sinclair as being extremely driven. “She’s demonstrated that she’s a leader,” Simm said. “Once she took command, she led and others would follow in the proper direction.”
Sinclair said in an interview she preferred being on the other side of the microphone and that writing the valedictorian speech was an interesting challenge. “It’s pretty amazing to think of all the different valedictorians that have gotten up there, and I get to be one of them,” Sinclair said. “I’ve got to avoid using the same clichés that every valedictorian uses in their speech.”
Clichés aside, Sinclair will represent her graduating class this fall. She described the speech as an oppurtunity to “capture something that’s common to the student experience.” “I’ve been practicing a lot and (have) worked hard on the speech,” she said. “I feel like it’s a final challenge that was set and that I need to live up to it for myself and to make my instructors and friends proud.”
Ruben Nelson, a former Mount Royal student and the 1957 valedictorian, also said that he “felt an obligation to his friends and colleagues.” “It’s a fairly major test, it’s like passing your final exam,” said Nelson, who made his speech half a century ago, at the Central United Church. Mount Royal was still considered a junior college during the time that Nelson attended, offering both high school courses and first-year university engineering courses. Nelson said the school has always focused on providing a positive student experience.
“There was a commitment of the faculty to students as persons, not just (as) walking- brains they had to educate,” he said. Nelson described Mount Roy- al as a place where “the life of the mind mattered.” He said he remembers hearing guest speakers like Jackie Robinson, the first African-American major league baseball player, who enhanced his educational experience. “You realized the people who ran the place thought it was really important that you had experiences that stretched your mind out of the normal ruts,” he said.
Nelson was eventually able to make his own contributions to the institution. Mount Royal’s main campus moved to its current Lincoln Park location in 1972. Nelson was invited to sit in on the early planning sessions for the new campus. “I encouraged them to do groundbreaking stuff,” Nelson said. “In other words, don’t just build another place that looks like every other community college in North America.”
He added, “Mount Royal tried to build a campus (whose) architecture reflected its under- standing of what education is and who students are.” Nelson said he hopes the school can be as brave and courageous in the next 100 years as in its first century. “It can’t just be a business as usual,” he said. “It’s not a business as usual kind of place. “We’ve got to break the normal moulds and move beyond them. That’s a very powerful theme in Mount Royal’s first 100 years of life.”