It may have taken 48 years, but John Chisholm wants Agnes MacLellan to know he finally graduated.
After receiving his St. F.X. honorary degree, the noted businessman and philanthropist laughed when he asked anyone who knew her to pass along that message to his former Grade 11 teacher.
Chisholm said, as a then 17-year-old with a second-hand bulldozer, school was not high on his priority list. He was making money doing a variety of jobs.
Eventually, he dropped out of school. His said his last day in class was Nov. 22, 1963 – the day United States president John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
“It was a life-changing moment,” Chisholm said of that choice.
While working on his first “big job” – the foundation of St. F.X.’s Angus L. Macdonald Library – Chisholm said he saw a familiar face walking towards his bulldozer one afternoon.
It was MacLellan, who Chisholm described as a “wonderful lady.” She came to find out why her student wasn’t in class.
“I told her I wasn’t getting anything out of it,” he recalled of the conversation.
From there, Chisholm said he focussed on what he loved – “moving dirt.”
Those were some of the reflections in a humorous and thought-provoking address to graduates by the normally soft-spoken Antigonish native during St. F.X. fall convocation Saturday afternoon at the Keating Centre.
He joked he had “moved from the basement to the podium.”
Chisholm was recognized as a “shining example” of the entrepreneurial spirit that has and continues to build rural Nova Scotia.
“He is a true community builder,” Mary McGillivray, St. F.X. academic vice-president and Provost, said in reading Chisholm’s citation.
The racing enthusiast and owner of Riverside International Speedway encouraged graduates to take risks and not be afraid of hard work.
“Use your talents to find opportunities for yourself and others,” he said.
Chisholm shared the stage with more than 250 graduates in degree and diploma programs, including 13 Mi’kmaq education graduates from a program offered at the Membertou First Nation.
The Class of 2011 also included 41 graduates of Coady International Institute’s diploma program.
Chisholm, who has strong ties with the Coady, said he was “particularly honoured” to share the day with those graduates.
“I am so proud of your work. It means a great deal to me to be here with you,” he said.
Chisholm co-chaired the fundraising campaign for the construction of the new Coady. He also made a $1 million contribution to the initiative.
Joining Chisholm as honorary degree recipients were Budd L. Hall, one of Canada’s best-known adult educators; and Emily Joy Sikazwe, a tireless advocate of women’s empowerment in Zambia and around the world, also received Doctors of Laws (honoris causa).
“St. F.X. is a place of fertile ground for people to become global citizens,” Sikazwe said.
She graduated from Coady’s development leadership diploma program in 2004.
Hall has devoted his career to building bridges between communities and developing educational methods that engage all community members including marginalized populations.
“Use hope as possibilities in your life,” Hall said, noting his pride in receiving the honorary degree at the home of the Antigonish Movement – one of the true starting points for adult education.
Mary Oxner, a faculty member with the Gerald Schwartz School of Business, received the Outreach Award for her extensive work in the community with organizations such as Antigonish Guysborough Early Childhood Intervention Program. She also sits on the boards of the Diocese of Antigonish Finance Council and VON Antigonish Charitable Foundation.
She is also a co-founder of the Adult Friendship Corner and a support group for families living with schizophrenia.
Oxner said she was “humbled and appreciative” with receiving the honour. She added her motivation for working in the community is three-fold.
“One, I get to volunteer with so many different people from whom I learn so much about my community and about myself. Two, I grew up with parents and grandparents who believe in service and in their community and it is that same community which also supports them and me. Three, there is a real need for volunteerism in so many organizations that do such good work in our community; it is enjoyable to be a part of that work,” Oxner said.
Blaine Chisholm, executive director of Celtic Community Homes, received the inaugural Community Partnership Recognition Award. It honours someone who has worked closely with the university community.
“I am certainly flattered to have received such an honour,” he said, noting his particular pride in being the inaugural recipient.
Chisholm has welcomed St. F.X. service learning students to Celtic – which serves residents with mental health issues – for more than a decade.
“They bring such enthusiasm and energy,” he said about the students.
He added the experience helps break down barriers, dispelling many of the prejudices and preconceptions associated with mental illness.
Chisholm praised the service learning program and its students.
“St. F.X. is a leader in this country in this area. I hope it continues to be part of its mandate for years to come,” he said.
Make a change
Isaac Akuoko Boateng, a Coady diploma recipient, addressed convocation on behalf of the graduating class.
He told graduates that “change starts with us.”
He also used the lyrics of Canadian country singer Johnny Reid to help deliver his message.
“Today, I’m gonna try and change the world,” he said, encouraging all grads to do the same.