Queen’s graduates return for convocation

Spring Convocation

Queen’s graduates return for convocation

Six honorary degrees are being conferred upon leaders from the fields of literature, health care, activism, post-secondary education, and public service.

May 23, 2024


Honorary degree recipients for Spring Convocation 2024.

The honorary degree recipients for Spring Convocation are, clockwise from top left: Nathalie Provost; Robert McCormack; Alice Baumgart; Ngugi wa Thiong’o; Jim Leech; and Val Napoleon.

Spring Convocation is an exciting time for Queen’s University with approximately 3,550 graduates from all seven faculties crossing the stage and receiving their degrees in seven ceremonies starting on May 24 and continuing from June 18 to 21.

Six honorary degrees are being conferred on leaders from the fields of literature, health care, activism, post-secondary education, and public service, during the June ceremonies. Recipients are chosen by the Queen’s community for their outstanding achievements as well as their contributions to local, national, and global communities.

“Convocation is a time to celebrate our graduates for all they have contributed to the university and to look forward to the many opportunities that lie before them,” says Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane. “These ceremonies are an opportunity to hear from our honorary degree recipients who will share their wisdom gained through a lifetime of experiences, their resilience, and leadership.” 

The May 24 ceremony will also feature the installation of Niki Boytchuk-Hale as the 39th Rector of Queen’s University. The third-highest office of the university – after the chancellor and principal – the rector represents all Queen’s undergraduate and graduate students to the institution in matters pertaining to education. In addition, the rector serves on governing bodies, including the board of trustees, senate, and various other committees. 

This year’s honorary degree recipients are:

Nathalie Provost – June 18, 3 p.m.

Faculties: Smith Engineering, School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs

Throughout her career, Nathalie Provost has been motivated by a profound commitment to enhancing the collective well-being of citizens. Graduating with a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering (1990) and a Master's degree in Industrial Engineering (1993) from Polytechnique Montréal, she has distinguished herself through more than two decades of dedicated service in high-ranking civil service roles. 

Provost is currently General Manager of Analysis and Expertise for the Center and South of Quebec within the Ministry of Environment, the Fight against Climate Change, Wildlife, and Parks of Quebec. 

Provost is not only a distinguished professional but also a survivor of the 1989 Polytechnique femicide. Her steadfast determination during those tragic events earned her the Medal of Bravery of Canada. Following the tragic event, she delivered a message of hope to the Polytechnique community and the broader Quebec population. Subsequently, she has become a pivotal spokesperson and dedicated activist on the issue of firearm control in Canada, notably serving as a spokesperson for PolyRemembers (PolySeSouvient), and was Vice President of the Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Public Safety from 2017 to 2019.

Provost has continued her support for and encouragement of women in engineering, and serves as the godmother of the Order of the White Rose, a scholarship established by her alma mater in tribute to the victims, as well as the injured, families, professors, employees, and students.

Robert McCormack – June 19, 10 a.m.

Faculties: Health Sciences, Arts and Science, School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs

A Professor Emeritus in the Department of Orthopaedics at the University of British Columbia, the focus of Robert McCormack’s clinical practice has been on knee and shoulder injuries with subspecialty interest, and research activities, in articular cartilage regeneration and ligament reconstruction. His research has generated more than 160 peer reviewed publications. He was a founding member of three of the major multicenter orthopaedic research groups in Canada.

Dr. McCormack is active in sports medicine and cares for athletes at the university, national and professional levels. He is the head physician for the CFL’s BC Lions, is the Orthopaedic Surgeon for the MLS’s Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and works as a consultant for the NHL/NHLPA. He is a physician for several national teams, in both summer and winter sports and has been part of the medical team at 11 Olympic Games. He was the head physician for the Canadian Olympic team from 2004 to 2020. 

Dr. McCormack attended Queen's University from 1973 to 1979, as a science undergraduate followed by medical school. While at Queen's, he was successful as a track athlete, winning several intercollegiate championships as a middle-distance runner and setting Canadian records in the 1500m and 1000m indoors. As a result, Dr. McCormack was awarded the Jenkins Trophy for the Graduating Queen’s Student Best Combining Academic and Athletic Excellence.  

Alice Baumgart – June 19, 3 p.m.

Faculties: Health Sciences, Arts and Science, School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs

A Professor Emeritus of Queen’s University, Alice Baumgart served as Dean of the School of Nursing (1977-1988) and returned to the position from 1994 until her retirement in 1997. In 1988, she was appointed Vice-Principal, Human Services, the first woman in the history of Queen’s to be appointed as Vice-Principal. She has also held faculty appointments at the University of British Columbia and Western Michigan University.

A nursing graduate of UBC, Dr. Baumgart holds a master’s degree from McGill University and a PhD from the University of Toronto.

Dr. Baumgart has held several national and international offices and appointments including President of the Canadian Nurses Association, President of the Canadian Association of University Schools of Nursing, the precursor to the current Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing, Member of the Board of Directors, International Council of Nurses, and more.

She is also the co-editor and a contributing author to a widely used textbook, Canadian Nursing Faces the Future. She is the recipient of several honors and awards including the 75th Anniversary Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of British Columbia, the Distinguished Service Award of Queen’s University, the Ethel Johns Award for distinguished service to university nursing education in Canada, and Commemorative Awards for Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver and Golden Jubilees.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o – June 20, 10 a.m.

Faculties: Arts and Science, School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs

Often described as East Africa’s leading novelist, Kenyan author and academic Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s works address important topics including decolonization, the inequities of post-colonialism, globalization, and the problematic interaction between dominant and marginalized languages in Africa. His writing, over a 60-year career, includes novels, plays, short stories, and essays, ranging from literary and social criticism to children's literature, garnering numerous awards, recognition, and critical acclaim.

His 1964 debut work, Weep Not, Child, was the first novel by an East African writer to be published in English. However, by his 1986 work, Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature, Ngugi posited that in order to combat the continuing hold of colonialism African-language literature was the only authentic voice for Africans and stated his own intention of writing only in Kikuyu or Kiswahili moving forward.

In 1977, Ngugi was imprisoned by the Kenyan government for more than a year after writing his groundbreaking play Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want), which exposed and criticized injustices and inequality in Kenyan society. He was released as an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience moved to the United States, where he has taught literature at Yale University, Northwestern University, New York University, and, currently, University of California – Irvine. 

He has won numerous awards including the UNESCO First Prize (1964), the Nonino International Prize for Literature (2001), the Park Kyong-ni Prize (2016), and the PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature (2022), and has been shortlisted twice for the International Booker Prize (2009, 2021).

Jim Leech – June 20, 3 p.m.

Faculties: Smith School of Business, School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs

Chancellor Emeritus Jim Leech attended Royal Roads and Royal Military College, earning the Canadian Army Award, and upon graduation joined the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals and served with the Royal 22e Régiment. Following this military service, he earned an MBA from Queen's which provided the springboard for a successful 42-year business career, with leadership positions across several industries – financial services, energy, real estate, technology start-ups, private equity and pension management. 

Leech is best known for his leadership of Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan which he joined in 2001 to build a global private investment programme; he was appointed President and CEO in 2007. Upon his retirement in 2014, he co-authored The Third Rail, Confronting our Pension Failures, which won the Best Canadian Business Book Award. 

Since retirement, Leech has dedicated his working life to voluntary philanthropic leadership and non-partisan public service including: board chair of the UHN Foundation; board chair of the Mastercard Foundation; founding director of Right to Play International; founding advisory board chair of the Institute for Sustainable Finance at Smith School of Business; Honorary Colonel of 32 Signal Regiment; special advisor to the Prime Minister of Canada to establish the Canada Infrastructure Bank; and 14th Chancellor of Queen's University.

Queen’s has recognized Jim’s service as a member of the Advisory Board to Smith School of Business, a member of University Council and Board of Trustees plus his seven years as Chancellor and personal philanthropy with the Toronto Branch Award, Alumni Achievement Award and Distinguished Service Award, as well as the Jim Leech Mastercard Foundation Fellowship in Entrepreneurship, the Jim Leech MBA Scholarship, the Leech classroom in Goodes Hall, the Chancellor Jim Leech Bursary for Indigenous Students and the Jim Leech Ceilidh Centre in the new John Deutsch University Centre.

Val Napoleon – June 21, 10 a.m.

Faculties: Law, Education, Arts and Science, Smith School of Business, School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs

Val Napoleon is Cree from Saulteau First Nation located in northeast British Columbia in the Treaty 8 region. She is an adopted member of the House of Luuxhon, Frog Clan from Gitanyow (Gitxsan).

Dr. Napoleon is the Law Foundation Chair of Indigenous Justice and Governance, and a professor, and former dean, at the Faculty of Law, University of Victoria. Her research, publications, and community engagement focus on Indigenous legal traditions as they relate to feminism, citizenship, lands and property, intellectual property, democracy, self-determination, and governance.

Three breakthrough accomplishments encapsulate Dr. Napoleon’s imaginary for a revitalized Indigenous lawscape in Canada and beyond. Dr. Napoleon’s work engenders the recognition of Indigenous law as law, and as an interdisciplinary, intellectual field with its own complexities and challenges, and promise to enable Indigenous peoples to manage complex problems of today.

Indigenous Law Research Unit – Dr. Napoleon established the first research centre to focus exclusively on recovering and rebuilding Indigenous laws. ILRU partners with communities across Canada to articulate Indigenous laws in a way that has revolutionized and redefined how Indigenous law is researched and restated. 

Juris Doctor/Juris Indigenarum Doctor Program – Dr. Napoleon co-developed and launched in 2018 the dual degree JD/JID at University of Victoria. This paradigm shift in legal education redefined Indigenous legal pedagogies and legal practices. Over four years, students earn two law degrees – a Canadian law degree and an Indigenous law degree. 

New National Centre of Indigenous Laws (provisional name) ¬– While housing the Indigenous law initiatives, the NCIL facilitates local, national, and international conversations about the most challenging and divisive Indigenous law issues and questions of the day.

Learn more about the 2024 Spring Convocation Ceremonies on the Office of the University Registrar website.

Community Stories