It was almost 30 years ago when Rebecca Patterson stood before Niagara College’s Class of 1987 as valedictorian at her own convocation ceremony, graduating with her RN Nursing diploma.
On October 28, she returned to her alma mater for the first time since that day – this time, as Capt. (Navy) Rebecca Patterson, one of the highest ranking women in the Canadian Armed Forces. The deputy commander of the Canadian Forces Health Services Group addressed the new graduates as the ceremony’s guest speaker and recipient of the College’s Distinguished Alumni Award.
Cpt. Patterson spoke of her experiences during her long and rewarding career with the Canadian Armed Forces, providing patient care as well as leading medical education and training to support missions at home and abroad. She described her overseas deployments to Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf Conflict in 1991, to Somalia to support the Canadian Airborne Regiment in 1993, and to Afghanistan in 2011-2012 where she led a multinational team that assisted the Afghan national army and national police with re-establishing their medical education and training system.
As she focused on helping them create a better future, she learned a lesson about the similarities between all people.
“No matter where you go in the world, there is an absolutely insatiable thirst for education and access to healthcare … the aim of education and of healthcare is to create a better life,” she said. “We’re lucky in Canada; there’s many places out there that are not … Access to quality education and healthcare drives peace and change.”
While she is among only 14% of women in the Canadian Armed Forces, Cpt. Patterson told graduates that gender has not been a barrier in her career.
She encouraged the new grads to challenge themselves, push their boundaries as she has.
“One day I want to see one of you up here; that you achieve your goals; that you may give to your families or your communities, or you may use this as a stepping stone to make just a small change to make the world a better place,” she said. “You have the right foundations – guess what, I’m proof of that.”
College president Dan Patterson also spoke to the new graduates about the value of their education.
“Your education is a very wise investment. It will serve as your passport to a world of promise and possibility,” he said. “During your time with us, you have developed skills and knowledge and real world experience that only an applied education can provide. This will set you apart and give you a distinct advantage as you begin or continue on your career path.”
He encouraged the new graduates to take the lessons they learned through NC’s applied learning projects with them after graduation, and contribute to their communities.
“When we extend ourselves we enrich the lives of those around us,” he said.
Held at the Welland Campus, the ceremony marked the graduation of almost 800 students from Niagara College’s Schools of Business and Management Studies; Environmental and Horticultural Studies; Hospitality, Tourism and Sport; Food and Wine Sciences; Academic and Liberal Studies; Media, Trades and Technology Studies; Justice and Fitness Studies; Allied Health Studies; Nursing and Personal Support Worker Studies; and Part-Time Studies.
View ceremony video here: www.niagaracollege.ca/enrolmentservices/convocation/