Address to Congregation - May 27th, 2004
by Dana Brynelsen

Mr. Chancellor, Madame President, graduates, faculty, family and friends. I wish to thank the Senate of the University of British Columbia for recommending me for this honorary degree and Dr. Hillel Goelman and other colleagues for putting my name forward. This was a completely unexpected tribute and I am deeply honoured. It is a particular honour for me that this degree comes from UBC. I grew up with grand tales of this campus as my father and uncle were UBC graduates. I won’t be able to share most of their stories with you today as this is a formal event and they were engineers. However, my uncle who is 92 is here today and there is one story I would like to tell to recognize him. As a young student, he was president of the Alma Mater Society. He went on their behalf to New York and raised the money to build Brock Hall. So I grew up with a strong connection to and affection for UBC and the belief that anything was possible if you went at it the right way. I took my teacher’s training here in l964 and in those days you could teach after that training and I left UBC to teach before I finished my degree. So I am very delighted at long last to have a degree, although I appear to have started at the top. In retirement I plan to begin again and work my way up to what you as graduates have accomplished today. My connections with UBC however have never really ended. Our work in the Infant Program brought me back to the campus in the early 80’s and I have been here ever since in the Berwick Centre. UBC is a big part of my life.

This honorary degree is not just a tribute to me. Everyone who achieves success in life achieves it with the support of a whole community of family, friends and colleagues. This degree is a tribute to them and to the many people who work in Infant Development Programs and in other services for young children with disability. It is recognition of the importance of providing support early to families, to help children get the best possible start in life. And this degree honours the work of thousands of parents across BC from whom we have learned so much. Not the least being the power of love and the importance of each and every child.

The Infant Development Program of BC grew out of the birth of a baby with Down syndrome. When Pamela Vickers was born in l969 there were no early intervention services for her or her family. Conventional professional advice at that time was to institutionalize infants with intellectual disability. Her mother started the first Infant Development Program in Canada and to date these programs in BC have served nearly 50,000 families. Every life has the potential to create great things. Anything is possible.

UBC has been in the forefront of academic institutions in Canada in supporting our field of early childhood intervention and the field of disability in general. As graduates you can be very proud of your Alma Mater. From the onset, the Faculty of Education has helped us develop the training we need to do our work well. I wish to recognize in particular professors’ in Education, Ron Neufeld and Hillel Goelman who truly championed our cause. They were assisted by many others including David Kendall, Brian Clarke, Perry Leslie, and Pat Mirenda. More recently, the Human Early Learning Partnership under the direction of Clyde Hertzman and Hillel Goelman pulls researchers together from across this campus. Their interdisciplinary work is transforming the way we look at early child development and the way we approach interventions with children and their families. UBC has also been in the forefront of developing services and advocacy in the area of disability for students, staff and faculty through the Disability Resource Centre. There is also a very special project on this campus that started last year. With support, a few students with intellectual disability are attending some classes in courses offered in the Faculty of Arts. This is enriching their lives and the lives of those who are in classes with them. I wish to thank UBC for their support of this special work and for their leadership in this unique Canadian program. This project sends a very powerful message to the broader community. A message that everyone can learn and everyone can make a difference.

For those of you who graduate today there will be many opportunities in your teaching careers to make a difference for children with disability or other special needs. Some of these children will have received services from early intervention programs and will be very ready for school with parents eager to work with you. Some children will arrive in your classrooms with undiagnosed disability, and with parents unaware that their children have special learning needs. Prepared and unprepared these children and their families need your support, your compassion and your respect. Although we have come a long way in our diverse society in opening doors and in accepting other ways of being, most children with disability and their families continue to struggle for our understanding, struggle to belong. As a teacher in their life you will have a very special role and your support and welcoming influence will have lifelong consequences for many. Never, ever underestimate your potential to make a positive difference or their potential to enrich your life. Every life has the potential to create great things. Anything is possible.

In closing, my good wishes to you all and may your professional journeys be rich and rewarding and full of joy. Now go forth and celebrate your great accomplishments with your family and friends. Thank you.