While university graduation is generally about acknowledging and congratulating students, many schools also take time to appreciate people a little more removed from classroom settings.
This week, UBC Okanagan will celebrate the graduating students of 2023. During those ceremonies, it will also applaud two people who have contributed countless hours of service to UBCO. Suiki?st Pauline Terbasket, Executive Director of the Okanagan Nation Alliance, and Lindsay Gordon, former UBC Chancellor, will receive honorary degrees on June 8 and 9.
“While a university’s role is to teach our students and conduct research, we also hope our university helps to inspire people—just as we have been inspired by Pauline and Lindsay,” says UBCO Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dr. Lesley Cormack. “By giving honorary degrees, we are recognizing people who have made great strides to make our world a better place to be. I am thrilled to see these honorary degrees presented to two people who have contributed significantly to UBC and, specifically, the Okanagan campus.”
For Terbasket, who says she has written many nomination and recognition letters for her peers and Elders, receiving an honorary degree is something she never envisioned.
“There are many before me who have received this honour, and I’ve watched and admired them all,” she says. “For me, this is such a surprise, I’m still absorbing it.”
Terbasket has served as the executive director of the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) for the past 25 years and helped develop strong ties with UBC Okanagan, supporting the inclusion of Indigenous perspectives in research while underscoring the importance of education with solid connections to identity, culture and language.
She has also served on the UBC Board of Governors’ Indigenous Engagement Committee and contributed to the UBCO Memorandum of Understanding with the ONA. Along with these roles, she was also on the committee that oversaw the addition of Indigenous symbols to the regalia of the Chancellor, President and UBC Board of Governors, and contributed significantly to adding Indigenous names to the campus street signs.
“My life’s service has been social justice, following in the footsteps of so many predecessors, leaders and families who were changemakers for the people,” she adds. “I have been fortunate to have strong mentors, too many to mention and many who are not with me today but are here in spirit. And there are many others who I continue to work beside. I also have to say it’s nice, as an Indigenous woman, to receive this recognition.”
For UBC’s former Chancellor Gordon, he also admits to being surprised when notified about the honorary degree. After earning Bachelor of Arts and Master of Business Administration degrees from UBC, he ventured into the business world. He served as former president and chief executive officer of HSBC Bank Canada for almost 10 years.
He was UBC’s Chancellor from 2014 to 2020 and also volunteered countless hours serving with the alumni association and as co-chair of the start an evolution campaign, which raised more than $1.6 billion to help improve students’ lives. He remains involved with the university and is currently a member of FORWARD, the UBC campaign which aims to raise three billion dollars and he continues to provide support for UBC’s Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health.
“I am very honoured to be receiving this honorary degree, but I must confess I’m particularly happy it’s coming from UBC Okanagan. I’ve always felt a strong connection with the university, as a graduate, but there is something about the spirit and growth of the Okanagan campus that I have always admired.”
While now mostly retired, Gordon keeps active with fundraising campaigns and some governance boards.
“You get to a certain point in your life, and we’ve been so very fortunate, when you particularly want to spend more time with family, especially our four children and five grandchildren. That’s our number one priority today.”
Suiki?st Pauline Terbasket will receive her honorary degree at the graduation ceremony on Thursday, June 9, at 1:30 pm. Lindsay Gordon will be conferred his degree Friday morning at the 11 am ceremony.