Sheldon Kennedy has faced his fears in a way that few dare to do

Sheldon Kennedy is one of Canada's finest role models. L-R: me, Dr. Sheldon Kennedy, President Elizabeth Cannon

Sheldon Kennedy is one of Canada’s finest role models. L-R: me, Dr. Sheldon Kennedy, President Elizabeth Cannon

This afternoon we held the convocation ceremony for the 2015 University of Calgary graduates in Environmental Design, Kinesiology and Social Work. In addition to celebrating our new graduates, we also awarded Grant MacEachern (a longtime friend of our university) with the Order of the University of Calgary and Sheldon Kennedy with the honorary degree Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa.

Along with the university Senate and President, I play a role in selecting honorary degree recipients for each convocation ceremony. I recall my phone call to Sheldon Kennedy last December. As I dialed his number, I said a quick prayer that I wouldn’t mess up the phone call. I was really hoping that Sheldon would honour us by accepting my invitation.

I didn’t mess up the phone call and Sheldon graciously accepted to receive the degree. Today as Sheldon received his degree, my heart swelled up to the size of a beach ball with happiness and pride. He is such a great Canadian and brings honour to our institution.

Professor Aritha van Herk, one of our university Orators, delivered the citation for today’s honorary degree recipient. I asked Aritha if I could include her remarks about Dr. Kennedy in today’s blog entry. These are the beautiful and fitting words that she composed:

Courage is not the absence of fear, but triumph over fear.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers his fear. Sheldon Scott Kennedy has faced his fears in a way that few dare to do.

We think of athletes as invincible, knights without a dent in their armour, powerful and rich. Sheldon Kennedy had the courage to show the world that beneath the jersey and the pads are people who are shy and afraid, people who may be vulnerable and isolated.  And what if your protector abuses you?  Where can you turn, and how can you respect yourself, believe in yourself, and survive?

Sheldon Kennedy lived these challenges. While he received worldwide admiration as a professional hockey player, he dared to step up and to speak on behalf of abused children everywhere. His disclosure of how he was sexually abused as a junior hockey player marked a turning point in public awareness about the safety of children.

On the ice, speed and foresight are everything.  In life, hindsight sometimes wins.  Sheldon Kennedy was a contender on the ice, but has become a lion fighting for education in order to protect children and youth from abuse.

In 1998, he rollerbladed across Canada to raise awareness about this issue.  His drive to affect change led to the creation of the Respect Group, which provides empowering online education for the prevention of abuse and bullying. The Respect in Sport program has trained thousands of coaches.  And he championed the establishment of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre, an integrated and collaborative model to help victims and their families.

His greatest concern is that victims be believed and supported and that perpetrators be brought to justice.  In any power imbalance, prevention and education are key.  He says, “ask the tough questions, and then listen to the answers.”  He serves as a spokesperson for violence and abuse prevention programs with the Canadian Red Cross and has received several awards for his humanitarian and altruistic efforts.

Sheldon Kennedy swore never to be silent when human beings endure suffering and humiliation.  Although he says that he doesn’t like wearing the cape, he has kept to his vow. He models for all courage and selflessness, true bravery.

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