‘We’re all in the university of life’ — Scenes from the Indigenous graduation ceremony

Organized by Indigenous Student Services, the event Thursday celebrated First Nations, Métis and Inuit students from all programs, as well as those graduating from the Indigenous Studies Program. (All photos by Georgia Kirkos, McMaster University)

People passing by the Indigenous graduation celebration on campus this week might’ve thought they were witnessing a large and long overdue family gathering.

They’d be right.

The first in-person Indigenous grad in years had exactly that vibe: Warm, welcoming, celebratory. A lot of laughter and hugs. Multiple generations and several proud grandmothers, including Elders in Residence Renee Thomas-Hill and Kathy Knott.

Here are some highlights from a very special celebration.


Graduate Sage Hartmann and Elder in Residence Kathy Knott greet one another. “All these students really do feel like my children,” Knott said, then amended it to: “Well, maybe my grandchildren.”  
Chancellor Santee Smith, a Kahnyen’kehàka (Mohawk) Nation woman from Six Nations of the Grand River, made a point of attending the Indigenous graduation celebration between the three academic convocations she presided over that day. “It’s quite special and I’m happy to be a part of it,” she said.
“Today feels like a long time coming,” said event MC and director of Indigenous Student Services Shylo Elmayan. “I’m really thankful because this is where we belong.”

“It really motivates us and it touches us when we get to be a part of your learning journey,” said Shylo Elmayan, Director of Indigenous Student Services. “We don’t get to meet all Indigenous students but we still plan our programs as if we know them all.”

New graduate and former Indigenous Studies Student Advisor Jordan Carrier and Professor Vanessa Watts, who just recieved the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

“I remember hearing stories about when the Indigenous grad was … hot dogs outside behind Hamilton Hall,” recounted Professor Vanessa Watts. “You can really see the growth of Indigenous Student Services and their real support and passion and commitment to celebrating your achievements and investing in your learning.”

As of July 1, the Indigenous Studies Program will become a department of its own within the Faculty of Social Sciences.

“We’re all in the university of life, and grandmothers like us are the professors,” said Elder in Residence Renee Thomas-Hill.

“Don’t think you’re here alone,” Elder Renee Thomas-Hill told the graduates. “Sometimes the wind will mess up your hair and it will be like a grandmother’s hand ruffling it.”

McMaster Alumni Association president Troy Hill, right, ran into childhood friend Chris Mancini, whose daughter Raven has completed her residency in family medicine.
The joyful celebration — the first in-person Indigenous grad celebration in years — wrapped up with a round dance.

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