2016 Celebration of Excellence wows sold-out crowd with testimonies and stories of dedication and perseverance
On a day when the temperature in Winnipeg soared to a record level, spirits were soaring in the Winnipeg Art Gallery as the University of Manitoba recognized some of its outstanding graduates. From inspiring stories of helping those in need to well-deserved kudos for innovators who improve our lives, the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Awards Celebration of Excellence highlighted amazing alumni who have taken their places as leaders in our community.
John Kearsey, Vice-President (External) of the University of Manitoba, opened the 2016 Celebration of Excellence to a sold-out crowd at the WAG. More than 300 people attended the celebration, honouring six outstanding individuals who have made tangible and meaningful differences in our world and local community; the amazing alumni are role models who display the finest of human qualities and are inspiring examples of the quality of education and life experience gained at the University of Manitoba.
Among those attending the event were: Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba, The Honourable Janice Filmon; Ian Wishart, Minister of Education and Training; Sarah Guillemard, MLA for Fort Richmond; His Worship Mayor Brian Bowman; and Patricia Bovey, Chair of the University of Manitoba Board of Governors.
The 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients were:
- Lifetime Achievement: Edward Lyons, a visionary who gave us a new window into the human body.
- Professional Achievement: Emmie Leung, a pioneer who is transforming how we protect our planet.
- Community Service: Karen Beaudin, a defender who creates new pathways for Indigenous youth.
- Service to the University of Manitoba: Hong Kong Alumni Association, ambassadors who transcend borders to strengthen our university community.
- Outstanding Young Alumni: Diana Nicholson, an innovator who brings hope to countries in crisis; and Gary Wong, trailblazer who is winning the global fight against infectious disease.
With a review of University achievements and milestones during the past year, Kearsey noted the many transformative events at the U of M in 2016, including the historic opening of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation on the Fort Garry campus, the opening of the new Taché Hall and the John J. Conklin Theatre, not to mention last fall’s spectacular half-time launch of the Front and Centre campaign during a Bomber game.
Also noted were remarkable alumni such as Dr. Frank Plummer who will be soon honoured with a prestigious Canada Gairdner Wightman Award—known as a “baby Nobel”—for his game-changing research in infectious disease. The crowd cheered loudly at the mention of David Onyemata, who last week became the first ever University of Manitoba Bison football player to be drafted by the National Football League.
“In their own way, our alumni use their University of Manitoba experience and education to impact their communities and the world around them,” noted Kearsey. “They serve as a reminder that the best leaders don’t rest on their laurels. They think about the future. They think about the next challenge, always looking for the next opportunity to make a difference.”
Highlights from the Celebration
Click each recipient to read more about their portion of the evening.
This year, two individuals were presented with the Outstanding Young Alumni Award. The first, engineer Diana Nicholson, was introduced by Dr. Joanne Keselman, Vice-President (Academic).
As a water specialist with Doctors Without Borders, Nicholson has brought her expertise to refugee camps in Chad and South Sudan, and to the frontlines of the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.
Keselman noted: “Diana created positive change in the communities that need her most—where there is disease, disaster and armed conflict. And here at home she’s shared her voice to encourage other young women to find their passion and make their own impact in the world.”
Accepting her award, Nicholson said: “It is an honour to be in a group of this calibre. You know, people ask me why I do what I do. Why give up physical comfort and so much else to travel to distant places where there is no running water? Why? Because it’s 2016. Every sixty seconds a child dies due to water-borne disease. I do this because I should. Because I can. I am inspired to see what can be accomplished when we have a common goal.”
To present the second Outstanding Young Alumni Award, Keselman introduced fourth-year political studies student and president of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union, Tanjit Nagra.
Nagra explained that a few years ago, Gary Wong had been a U of M graduate student doing research in a Level 4 Lab—where scientists tackle the world’s most feared viruses. He noticed that monkeys infected with the dreaded Ebola virus and which had been given a new antibody mixture weren’t dying. In fact, they were showing signs of life. The treatment resulting from the experiment in Wong’s lab saved lives and provided hope during the devastating Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
His research has since inspired the development of antibody therapies for other deadly viruses, including HIV, and he’s now helping to establish an infectious disease network in China.
Dr. Gary Kobinger, Wong’s supervisor, said: “I think what makes Gary Wong a great researcher is mainly his desire and not only his desire, but his action to help others. Already to have had a real impact on an ongoing outbreak in West Africa was already a huge accomplishment and probably the dream of many scientists.”
In accepting his award, Wong said: “This is really amazing. I am extremely honoured and humbled tonight. I am especially thankful for my parents who allowed me to pursue my dreams and passion to be a scientist. The colleagues I have worked with are some of the most interesting and amazing people, doing groundbreaking research, because I know that such research is truly a team effort. And there are many pathogens out there that need to be addressed; there’s a lot of work to do. I am confident that with a lot of study and perseverance those diseases can be overcome.”
President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. David Barnard then introduced the award for Service to the University. He began with a poem, “A Walk,” by Rainer Maria Rilke.
Barnard announced the recipient of the Service Award for 2016 was not a single individual, but the Hong Kong Alumni Association. He said: “This intrepid group shows us the true power of community: that together we are so much more than we are on our own. Whether they are encouraging Hong Kong residents to attend the University of Manitoba, or offering guidance and a network of support once graduates return home, this alumni association creates meaningful connections with each other and their alma mater. That’s what community builders do.”
Alumnus Philip Lee [BSc/66, LLD/11] explained: “In our Chinese tradition, we never forget the benefits we receive during our lifetime. Education is a very important step in our lifetime because it gives us the foundation to further our careers and so on. So, when students finish their higher education and were able to find good jobs in Hong Kong they did not forget the university where they got their basic training.”
Hong Kong Alumni Association president Rita Mui Goodridge came onstage to accept the award, saying, “I spent the most important formative years of my life at the University of Manitoba. You nurtured me and the experiences at university changed my life in many positive ways. Hong Kong alumni have become lifelong ambassadors for the University of Manitoba, and many have gone on to become successful because of the experiences and knowledge we gained here. We have built upon the foundation you gave us, and we are dedicated to giving back, committed to giving love and friendship from Canada to Hong Kong.”
Presenting the Award for Community Service was former Alumni Association president, 2005 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, Honorary Degree recipient and a member of the Order of Manitoba and the Order of Canada, Manitoba’s Lieutenant Governor, The Honourable Janice Filmon.
Her Honour announced that the Community Service Award recipient was Karen Beaudin, a dedicated volunteer and a community leader who lifts people up and offers a voice to the most vulnerable in our society. Beaudin’s involvement in community-based organizations—many of them supporting Indigenous children—spans decades and inspires us all. From pushing for equality for Indigenous peoples in the workplace to teaching Métis square dancing to young people at Turtle Island Community Centre, she brings light and positivity that empowers the next generation.
“I am honoured to be standing here tonight,” said Beaudin. “Volunteering has been a big part of my life, and I have been very lucky to have a job I really enjoy. I work with groups that need help and support, currently working with newcomers and Indigenous people.”
Beaudin spoke about some of her most memorable experiences, including teaching square dancing to a group of disadvantaged kids who were nevertheless enthusiastic about their performances in front of appreciative audiences. She also fondly recalled working with Aboriginal women in Lord Selkirk Park on training programs and providing programming in their community.
She added: “People are proud to identify and take part in working with the City of Winnipeg, growing together in what they want to achieve.”
Gregg Hanson, past President and CEO of Wawanesa Mutual, then took the stage to present the Distinguished Alumni Award for Professional Achievement to waste management entrepreneur Emmie Leung.
Hanson noted: “Long before sustainability was on anyone’s mind, Emmie saw the value in recyclable goods. She would collect old papers and cardboard from homes and businesses until she had enough to fill a container to ship and sell overseas. What began as a one-woman business—one very determined woman—is now a $100 million family of companies that has transformed how we protect our planet. Emterra Group sells more than 500,000 tonnes of recycled commodities each year.”
Emmie Leung graciously accepted the award, saying: “I had a chance to change my life when I came to Canada. My world consisted of my classes, my two jobs and my studies. The library was my second home and my source of knowledge. As a young immigrant from China, stepping off the plane in Winnipeg was a terrifying experience, but every one of you were so warm and friendly, no wonder your licence plate says ‘Friendly Manitoba.’”
She continued: “At the University of Manitoba, I defined my voice and I was given role models and developed friendships that lasted my whole life. You taught me how to be successful, and showed me how to be a Canadian.
“I was asked to give advice to young women, but women and men are the same, are they not? My advice is that when you start your own business, you need to learn your capabilities and your strengths. Expand your knowledge and education, and focus, focus, focus. Don’t give up, and if you fall down, get up and run again.”
Presenting the Distinguished Alumni Award for Lifetime Achievement was University of Manitoba Chancellor Harvey Secter. He began by sharing a poignant moment when he saw an ultrasound of his grandchild for the first time, marveling at the technology―the medical applications of which were developed at the University of Manitoba.
Secter explained that in the 1960s, Dr. Edward Lyons was introduced to ultrasound equipment and wondered how it could aid diagnosis. He was among the first to use ultrasound to detect blood clots and brain tumours. His research showed that this technology was safe for mothers and their babies—groundbreaking findings that would influence hospitals around the world to embrace the technology.
Secter noted of Lyons: “He’s a real mensch.”
Dr. Douglas MacEwan praised Lyons’ work, saying: “He actually singlehandedly moved the science of ultrasound along. It’s very rare for a scientist to do that. That’s Nobel Prize territory.”
Accepting his award, Lyons said: “At the University of Manitoba I received an invaluable education in science, medicine and radiology. I thank the University for honouring me for my professional journey.”
He spoke wistfully about serendipity as a mechanism that played a pivotal role in his life. “I have learned to stay open to opportunities,” he said. “Change is one thing you can count on.” Paraphrasing Maya Angelou, he explained: “I have learned that people will forget what you have said, and what you did, but they will never forget the way you made them feel. In medicine, we connect with people at their most vulnerable times, and they will remember how you made them feel.”
The Distinguished Alumni Awards Celebration of Excellence recognized an impressive array of alumni achievements from the design of the award (by jeweller and alumna Hilary Druxman [BA/85]) to the entertainment. The night featured inspiring performances by:
- The C String Collective, featuring Desautels Faculty of Music students Leandro Saltarelli, Yaxin Sun and Avalon Lee [MMus/15] and alumnus Edvany Silva [BMus(Perf)/14]
- Let Beauty Grow, performed by Faculty of Arts student Cindy-Marie Small Mack and Andrea Mislan, choreography by Brenda Gorlick, performed to an original piece by composer Joseph Aragon [BSc/99]
- Desautels Faculty of Music alumna and student, a wonderfully talented performer, lyric soprano Lynlee Wolstencroft [BMus/14], accompanied by alumna Lisa Rumpel [MMus/15].
- The Sarah Sommer Chai Folk Ensemble: Artistic and Music Director, David Vamos [BMus(Perf)/08]; dance direction, Illana Minuk, student, Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences; Vocal Director, Sarah Sommer, student, Integrated Bachelor of Music/Bachelor of Education degree program; and Director of Production, Ian Kirk
- Horizon Choir, under the direction of Mel Braun, Associate Professor, Desautels Faculty of Music
In closing the evening, Kearsey challenged those in attendance: “…to reflect on the inspiring words we’ve heard tonight and the lessons we’ll take with us, how we will use these messages, act on them and bring them to life… and, most importantly, how we will pass on these messages.”
A reception in the Winnipeg Art Gallery Ferdinand Eckhardt Hall followed the program.
With so many U of M graduates whose passion and dedication are making differences in the lives of people all around the world, the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Awards promise to be even more inspiring next year.
The Alumni Association and the University have a long history of celebrating the wonderful accomplishments of alumni. The Distinguished Alumni Awards recognize University of Manitoba alumni who have achieved outstanding accomplishments in their professional and personal lives, and who have been an inspiration to fellow alumni, current students and the community.
In 1937, the Alumni Association established the Alumni Jubilee Award to commemorate the University’s 60th Anniversary and to honour a student, from any faculty, for outstanding extracurricular contributions. The Jubilee Award was redesigned and reintroduced in 1959 to honour an alumnus/alumna whose contributions to society were outstanding; it was renamed the Distinguished Alumni Award (DAA) in 1996.
In 2012, the Alumni Association, together with the University of Manitoba, recognized the importance of expanding the awards program to acknowledge more than one graduate per year. As a result, in 2014, five awards were presented, including the DAA.