Simms tells grads to 'play their part'

June 13, 2008

A powerful and inspiring speaker who does not shy away from tough issues, Glenda Simms told graduates Friday morning they must tackle head-on issues related to poverty, the environment and health.

“We base our hope on the future of your generation,” she says. “Go forth into this complex and challenging world and valiantly play your part.”

Simms spoke to graduates from the faculties of Graduate Studies and Education at the June 13 morning session of Western's 291st Convocation. The University of Western Ontario conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws upon Simms for her contributions to gender equality and social justice.

Born in Jamaica, where she gained great strength and confidence from the powerful female role models in her local community, Simms received her teacher’s certification before immigrating to Canada in 1971. After completing a Bachelor of Education degree at the University of Alberta, her experience teaching Native children in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta was the beginning of her strong commitment to working with students from ethnic minorities.

This commitment took her to the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College at the University of Regina and the Native Canadian education program at Nipissing University College in Ontario. Her doctorate in educational psychology, also from the University of Alberta, put her in an especially influential position to advocate for equity in higher education.

Simms served as President of the Canadian Advisory Council of the Status of Women from 1990-1996, a founding member and Past President of the Congress of Black Women of Canada, and a founding member of the National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of Canada.

She is also currently serving a four-year-term as a member of the Committee of the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, a long-standing international committee of the United Nations.

In her citation, Tracy Isaacs, Chair of Women’ Studies and Feminist Research, calls Simms a leader among women, a champion for equity and human rights, and an effective agent for social change.

“Oh, that we could all be like Glenda Simms: a powerful and commanding woman capable of changing the world,” says Isaacs. “She is a committed advocate for members of Canada’s First Nations, and a role model for young people - especially women and members of cultural and racial minorities. In her words, ‘we must be able to say we have idealism. Let idealism live.’ What better message could there be for an occasion such as this.”

Simms, upon receiving her fourth honorary degree, told graduates the education they have received at Western, one of the “most prestigious institutions in the global village,’’ should be used to better the world.

She specifically spoke to Faculty of Education graduates and the role they play in “the forming of young minds.”

As part of the ceremony, a Professor Emerita presentation was made to Suzanne Majhanovich (Education).