Channelling UVic life as Chancellor

- Joanne McGachie

Rogers “photobombing” at convocation.

Bearing witness to—and representing—the boundless enthusiasm of UVic students, researchers and community connections comes naturally for Chancellor Shelagh Rogers.

Over a year and a half into her term, and Chancellor Shelagh Rogers shows absolutely no sign of waning enthusiasm for her role and responsibilities as UVic’s ceremonial head. Even with three convocations under her belt, it’s clear that the excitement of presiding over the ceremonies has not worn off in the slightest.

“I love convocation!” Rogers says. “If I could do convocation every day of my chancellorship, I would be thrilled. I really feel that energy as the students are crossing the stage, and I’m very aware that, for each and every one of them, this is a threshold day—the last bit of ‘UVicness’ before their new lives begin. So I try to engage with each of them individually, call them by name, make it personal and say congratulations.”

She credits the hard work—and humour—of the staff at Ceremonies and Events, the Farquhar Auditorium and the University Secretary’s office for making her job easy and fun. “This past June, there were pictures posted backstage. One of them was a picture of Catwoman and it said ‘Chancellor Rogers, a.k.a. Catwoman—I mean, have you ever seen them together in the same room?’”

“There’s a beautiful atmosphere created backstage. They are all part of a very important and well-oiled machine, and the fact that they take time for these little, personal details is what makes it magic for me. It’s been deep fun!”

Rogers becomes even more animated as she talks about the strong focus the university puts on Indigenous culture, recognition and reconciliation—an area of huge importance in her life since she was appointed an Honourary Witness on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

“I love the fact that we’re now opening the ceremonies with drumming, and that a representative of one of the First Nations, on whose traditional lands the university is built, offers a welcome to the territory or a blessing,” she says. “It’s a big part of UVic’s essence—honouring history, culture, traditions and protocols. And when you know you’re doing something right, you kind of vibrate inside.”

Asked about some of the other highlights of the Chancellor role so far, Rogers’ list seems boundless. “It’s been such a privilege to be invited to so many events that really exemplify the amazing things happening on campus,” she says. “Touring CanAssist and seeing the incredible work they do there. Being part of Ideafest last March, where I moderated a session at the Belfry Theatre with three of UVic’s award-winning scholars. Attending the celebration of the tenth anniversary of Uni 101 and seeing how it’s removing barriers and changing people’s lives. I could go on . . .”

And she does, describing one more event that reflects another personal passion—extinguishing the stigma of mental illness. A long-time advocate of mental health awareness, and having spoken openly about her own battle with depression, she was honoured to host the second annual Student Mental Health Strategy forum last January.

“It was an incredible gathering, especially towards the end when several students got up and spoke about their struggles with depression,” she says. “I remember thinking: ‘Frack the stigma! This is possible—we’re all strengthened by this.’ It still gives me goose bumps to think of it.”

Even when asked about what challenges there have been for her as Chancellor, Rogers can’t contain her passion for the job. “We have very stimulating Board of Governors meetings, but it’s been a great learning curve for me, especially around understanding the financial reports that we deal with,” she says. “Trying to read spreadsheets doesn’t come naturally to me at all, but I was given some great advice by Murray Griffith. He told me to see it as a narrative—a story that is being told about UVic. The spreadsheets are UVic’s financial story—one book, with many chapters. That’s helped me a lot.”

So, between being UVic’s Chancellor, a tireless advocate for reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada, an activist for mental health awareness and, of course, continuing to host her weekly CBC radio show on writing in Canada—how does she balance all the demands on her time and energy?

“I’m very lucky, because I’ve got so many wonderful people around me who support me, keep me organized, help prepare me for each engagement, and understand and accommodate my highs and lows,” Rogers says. Then she taps her wrist. “I call my Fitbit ‘Clint’ after Clint Hamilton,” director of athletics and recreation at UVic. “He didn’t give it to me, but he and I have had long talks about the link between exercise and mental health and well-being. So it’s very important to me that I get my 10,000 steps in every day, and ‘Clint’ really helps me stay on track!”

And her thoughts on what the remainder of her term as Chancellor holds? “I want to get out there more, to speak about UVic and the wonderful things that are happening here,” she says. “I don’t like confrontation; I think conversation is where it’s at. I’m constantly hearing in my head the voices of survivors and the elders—‘be kind, be gentle, listen, be respectful.’ ” 

“Universities are where discussions take place and here at UVic we have a real leadership role in creating a better society.”



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Keywords: mental health, Indigenous knowledge, convocation, student life, community, staff

People: Shelagh Rogers

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