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The Inaugural Cohort of the President's Student Leadership Program. This photo was taken prior to social distancing measures were in place.

The Inaugural Cohort of the President's Student Leadership Program. (PHOTO TAKEN PRIOR TO COVID19 SOCIAL DISTANCING REQUIREMENTS).

Virtual celebration of leadership

President’s Student Leadership Program celebrates the graduation of its first cohort of students

May 5, 2020 — 

The first cohort of the President Student Leadership Program (PSLP), the marquee initiative of the James W. Burns Leadership Institute, was treated to a celebration of the program’s completion through a virtual graduation ceremony on Thursday, April 30, 2020.

Twenty-seven post-secondary students from a variety of backgrounds and academic disciplines comprised the graduating class of the PSLP’s inaugural cohort. Since June 2019, the students — representing the University of Manitoba, Red River College, University College of the North and the University of Winnipeg — have worked together in to expand their abilities and enhance their leadership potential.

At the event, the 51 attendees included students, family members, community leaders, and university faculty and staff. They were treated to speeches from a business leader, the class valedictorian, UM President, and UM Chancellor among others. A highlight of the graduation was a poignant video musical performance from the program’s participants — a rendition of Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.”

Students from the PSLP perform "You've Got a Friend in Me" by Randy Newman. Top left to right: Amy Jackson, Justin Lin, Lindsay Bain, Bottom left to right: Nina Lam and Calvin Loi

Students from the PSLP perform “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” by Randy Newman. Top left to right: Amy Jackson, Justin Lin, Lindsay Bain, Bottom left to right: Nina Lam and Calvin Loi

The main benefit of the PSLP program is the opportunity for the students to interact with and learn from local business leaders through site visits and mentorship experiences.

Paul Mahon [BComm (Hons)/96], Chief Executive Officer of Great-West Lifeco — one of the firms endowing the James W. Burns Leadership Institute — is a strong supporter of the program. He shared his own personal leadership journey and expertise with the participants in one of the Saturday leadership seminars that form part of the unique program design.

Speaking at the virtual graduation ceremony, Mahon commented on his experience, “We had the chance to spend a Saturday morning together discussing what it means to be a leader,” said Mahon. “I saw first-hand that we share that vision for our leaders of tomorrow. I left our discussion feeling energized and hopeful for the future. That is a testament to the passion and thoughtfulness each of you is bringing to the challenges that lie ahead.”

Lindsay Bain, Philosophy major at UM, was elected valedictorian by her fellow participants based on her contribution as a generous and collaborative team leader. In her moving speech, Bain spoke of the effectiveness of applied learning in leadership situations and the importance of approaching challenges with compassion and integrity so we are able to see the world in the way others see it. “I cannot imagine another format in which all of us from such varied backgrounds and personal interests would wind up in the same room and be able to connect on not only an intellectual level but deeper personal levels as well.”

The ceremony also had words of congratulations from Gady Jacoby, Dean and CPA Manitoba Chair in Business Leadership at the Asper School of Business, Anne Mahon, Chancellor of the University of Manitoba, Christine Watson, Red River College Interim President and CEO and David Barnard, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manitoba.

“Through the exceptional investment in the program from Canada Life, IG Wealth Management, Power Corporation of Canada and their respective senior executives, the James W. Burns Leadership Institute was established,” President Barnard noted in his remarks to the virtual event attendees. “The idea of the President’s Student Leadership Program first came from Paul Desmarais Jr. and with his investment in our university, we were able to create the PSLP.  We brought Dr. Suzanne Gagnon to UM as the Canada Life Chair in Leadership Education and the inaugural Director of the James W. Burns Institute. Without Dr. Gagnon’s insight, hard work and dedication, the program would not have been such a great success.”


Students from the 2020-21 cohort of the PSLP were recently made aware of their acceptance into the program. While the on-site core week of the program will not be taking place in June due to adherence of physical distancing, the Institute is developing alternative ways of delivering the same leadership experience to this new group of students.

“In these challenging times of COVID-19, we need leadership more than ever,” says Dr. Suzanne Gagnon, Associate Professor and Director of the James W. Burns Leadership Institute. “We’re looking forward to delivering the program despite the current conditions and think this will spark a lot of thoughtful discussion as well as new leadership contributions amongst our second cohort.”

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