Convocation ceremonies are a bittersweet occasion for Red Deer College president Joel Ward.
“Every year it’s wonderful to see the number of students who cross the stage, but it also hurts a little bit when you see a lot the students who have to leave our communities to complete their degree elsewhere,” Ward said following the first of two RDC graduation ceremonies held at Westerner Park on Friday where 475 students out of 1,950 graduates donned caps and gowns.
“We continue to push hard for polytechnic university status so that we can complete more students in Central Alberta. Our stats tell that 90 per cent don’t come back to the communities that they came from. They end up settling in Edmonton and Calgary and beyond.”
He said Red Deer and surrounding communities lose strength in terms of economic, cultural and social development when students must leave.
One of the students who will be moving on is Maryanne McGrath, recipient of 2016 Red Deer College Foundation Outstanding Student Award.
McGrath is the Students’ Association of Red Deer College president and has worked to increase supports for student mental health, increased awareness regarding bullying and harassment, and recently was involved with her team to donate $500,000 to the Gary W. Harris Centre for Health, Wellness & Sport.
McGrath is transferring to the University of Prince Edward Island in 2017.
Ward said every single student association president for the past eight years has left RDC because they can’t complete their degree here.
“That’s just one small example of the leadership we lose in our communities. It’s just not right. We hope the government is listening.”
He said after operating for 52 years, it’s time for the next step for Red Deer College.
The Outstanding Student Award was the second award McGrath received this week. On Tuesday she received the national Student Leadership Award of Excellence Gold from Colleges and Institutes Canada.
She said she never would have anticipated all her recent recognition.
“When I first came to Red Deer College I was too terrified of socializing with other students to go to the library so I spent my first year mostly by myself. So it’s been a very remarkable transformation. I don’t think I would have been able to do it without the support of my friends, my instructors, my colleagues at Red Deer College,” McGrath said.
McGrath was born and raised in Fort McMurray, and came to Red Deer in 2013. Her parents, brother and sister still live in Fort McMurray and thankfully their two homes were spared when wildfire struck in May.
“It’s been a very emotionally tough month. This past week has definitely been something to help me recover and I really appreciate it,” McGrath said.
Another RDC student honoured with an award on Friday was Jessica Lohmann who took home the Governor General’s Academic Medal (collegiate bronze level) for achieving the highest academic standing this year after completing the final year of a diploma-level post-secondary program.
Nirupama Raghavan received the University of Calgary Faculty of Arts Silver Medallion, which is presented to a student in the Bachelor of Arts collaborative program at RDC with the highest academic achievement in the final year of their degree program.