Dr. Gwen Point has been installed as UFV’s chancellor, becoming the second person to hold the ceremonial position.
A crowd of about 400 people gathered on the Chilliwack campus Wednesday afternoon to witness the historic event, as Point was appointed to the role by B.C. Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon. Warm applause turned to cheers and then a standing ovation for Point, as she was dressed in her dark green chancellor’s robe and cap. She mouthed the words “thank you” as a First Nations drumming circle beat out a powerful rhythm and sang the honour song at her feet, below the stage.
While her family and friends in the audience held their hands open, Point jubilantly moved her fists to the beat of the drums, smiling and nodding.
In her speech, the new chancellor spoke about difficult beginnings, friendships, and moving forward.
“This is special,” she said, “because this is a house of learning.”
Despite not finishing high school initially, education has been a constant thread throughout Point’s life, leading up to her new role as the ceremonial head of UFV.
“I didn’t get to finish high school, not because I didn’t want to but because of the conditions of the times,” she said. “But I wanted to get my Grade 12 and my mentors said ‘write your GED and apply.’ I did, and I’ve never looked back.”
Point first took courses at UFV in the 1980s, when it was the Fraser Valley College. Her husband, now former Lt.- Gov. of B.C., Steven Point, also studied at the school in its early days. As Point’s education and career grew, the school’s did as well. She became a member of the board of governors at UCFV, and then an assistant professor at what is now a full-fledged university. Point stepped down from her role as an assistant professor in the School of Social Work, in order to take on the volunteer chancellor position. She had been teaching First Nations Studies, including Stó:lo Nation Development, and Stó:lo Communications and World View.
She holds a Bachelor of Education degree from UBC, a post-baccalaureate diploma from SFU, and a Master of Education degree from the University of Portland, and is near completion of a doctorate in education from SFU. She also holds an honorary Doctor of Education degree from the University of Victoria.
“I am very pleased to be working with Dr. Point,” said UFV President and Vice-Chancellor Mark Evered. “She brings a unique balance of community and university experience, leadership and understanding. She has served our university as a teacher, a scholar, an administrator, and a board member, has held a number of offices in government, including the senior office of Chatelaine, and is a passionate leader, mentor, and role model in our community. She is an outstanding addition to UFV.”
Point has taken over from Dr. Brian Minter, the university’s first chancellor. Minter served two three-year terms, from 2008 to 2014.
“This is a very sad day for me, and a really happy day, too,” Minter said, addressing the UFV Board of Governors. “The choice you’ve made is simply outstanding.”
Barry Delaney, chair of the Board of Governors, was one of many officials to speak at the ceremony.
“The ideal chancellor carries out duties with warmth and distinction,” Delaney said, traits that are part of Point’s nature. “She is modest. She is passionate about this place and about the Fraser Valley.”
Point said she’s looking forward to her new role, and in the continuing role of mentor for those in pursuit of higher education.
“My grandmother told me that what you know has no value,” she said. “ It’s like sand in your hand unless you pass it on to others. I know that teaching the community about the Stó:lo people has made a difference and I really believe that it is an act of reconciliation. It is helping to create a better understanding of recent history. Every class, I would see a shift and transformation in the students.”
When she started teaching in 1990, there were only two or three aboriginal students in her class. In her final class last year, there were 26.
“There is a willingness to reach out and make space for aboriginal students here, and the question is, has that made a difference?” she said. “That is the bottom line, and yes it has.”
UFV is a place of diversity, she said, something that is evident in the student population, the connections with students in other countries, as well as the mix of academic and trades studies.
“We live in a time where we have so many opportunities here,” she said, “and you really want to look at that diversity. My elders said you don’t teach your children all the same thing because they’re all different.”
In the end, she said, changing the future comes down to offering yourself as a positive role model.
“You can only teach by example,” she said. “I hope I can shine a light for others and encourage them.”