Honouring a trailblazer

The University of Calgary understands that campus culture must underpin our actions. Campus culture, according to our institution’s Eyes High strategy 2017-22, means overcoming structural, social and cultural barriers to create a safe, inclusive, healthy and respectful environment — one that values diversity and the dignity of every person.

We’re still learning about inclusion and respect (and can always do better) but are making efforts to recognize the abilities of our female leaders. For example, the Executive Leadership Team is the highest-level of leadership at our institution, overseeing our strategic priorities and guiding our actions. The composition of this Team showcases gender diversity. I am proud that six of the eight positions on the ELT are held by women. Now that’s what I call role modelling.

Our university is capably led by president Dr. Elizabeth Cannon. In addition to Elizabeth, the other female executives are:

  • Linda Dalgetty, VP Finance and Services
  • Karen Jackson, General Counsel
  • Diane Kenyon, VP University Relations,
  • Dru Marshall, Provost and VP Academic
  • Nuvyn Peters, VP Development and Alumni Engagement

I admire all these women. One of the highlights of my term as Chancellor, in fact, has been the privilege to work with these and hundreds of other women leaders amongst our faculty and staff. All are making significant contributions to the work of our university and are enriching the academic experience for our students. They inspire me with their achievements and bolster my confidence in Canada’s future.

Our university is deep in female talent. In addition to being an acclaimed author, cultural commentator and professor in our Department of English, Aritha van Herk serves at my request as one of our Orators. At the autumn convocation ceremonies for our 2017 grads, Aritha delivered the citation for honorary degree recipient Bonnie DuPont – yet another respected leader associated with our university and city. These are the beautiful and fitting words that Aritha composed about Bonnie:


Jedi Master Bonnie DuPont and her Padawan learner. Ha!

One of Canada’s marvelous attributes is that we are a land of ice and snow, and so we understand the value of icebreakers, ships that can move through ice-blanketed waters.  It is impossible to find an encompassing metaphor for the woman we are privileged to honour today, but Bonnie DuPont is a suave, elegant icebreaker, one who moves steadily forward, who has shattered ice and glass and even solid brick walls.

Bonnie DuPont has accomplished so much that words are inadequate. Formidably visionary, she is insightful, perceptive, innovative, intuitive, and resourceful. Chancellor Thirsk says he would go to space with her; and hundreds of women would walk on broken glass for her.  She has forged an open path through myriad obstacles as an executive in the energy and agriculture sectors, and as an effective leader on multiple boards and corporations.

Her work in human resources, safety, governance, and public policy is extraordinary. She is a pioneer, a volunteer and a verb, an action word in motion. Her collection of firsts is phenomenal: she was the first or only senior woman for at least fifteen major Canadian organizations. This includes her work as the first woman executive at Saskatchewan Power Corporation, the first woman senior executive at Enbridge, and the first woman President of the Calgary Petroleum Club, breaking what had been for years an all-male bastion. She was named one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women from 2003 to 2006, and in 2007 appointed to the Top 100 Hall of Fame.

Her service to this university is particularly significant. From as far back as President Murray Fraser asking her to serve on a committee studying the issue of sexual harassment on campus to her role as the first woman Chair of the Board of Governors, she has given to our campus her energy and mentorship, supporting students, faculty, and administration alike.

But firstness is not her drive; her motivation has always been to clear open water for others, women and men. Her motto, “I might be the first, but I better not be the last”, encompasses her determination to bring about change.

Eminent Chancellor, let us honour this trailblazer, this woman who inspires all with her imagination, élan, intelligence, and wisdom.  On behalf of the Senate and the University, I invite you to invest Bonnie DuPont with the degree Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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