For Mandy Richard, crossing the stage at Spring Convocation and receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree is the result of four years of resilience and determination.

Richard, originally from Wiikwemikoong Unceded Territory in Ontario, said coming to STU changed her life. 

“Coming to St. Thomas was one of the best decisions I could have made,” Richard said. “The reason I say that is not just due to my educational experience, but also my lived experience—how much I dealt with and how much I’ve grown as a person here.”

At the beginning of her second year, Richard was facing personal challenges and realized she was struggling to concentrate on her studies—something she always enjoyed and took pride in—so she reached out for help. After meeting with a university counsellor, she decided to step away from her studies to take care of herself and focus on her sobriety.

 “The university was really supportive. They told me to take care of me and to come back when I was ready,” Richard said. “I came back the next September and I definitely needed that time off.”

Richard, who completed a double major in Communications and Public Policy and Political Science, found a support system in the Indigenous community at STU. Having a group of friends and cultural resources allowed her to reconnect with her roots.

“A big part of finding myself and a big part of my sobriety has been reconnecting with my culture. I got introduced to different elements of my culture like smudging and taking part in different ceremonies that may not be from my specific nation but are similar enough that I felt a sense of connectedness,” she said.

Once that connection was established, Richard became increasingly involved in the campus community. She was part of the university’s Ad Hoc Senate Committee on Indigenization and played an important role in the three-day Conference Toward Reconciliation, the elders gathering, and other cultural celebrations.

She helped bring the Red Dress Project—an aesthetic response to the more than 1,000 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada—to campus and was able to connect with Mi’kmaw lawyer, author, and social justice activist Pam Palmater, who delivered the annual Vigod Lecture in Human Rights.

“Having those components with my education has been important. Any of the events on campus I would encourage students here to attend. Those experiences are worth it,” Richard said.

Looking back on her time at STU—both the struggles and the accomplishments—Richard said the sense of community is what she will miss most about the university. 

“My time here has been incredible and I’m going to miss being here,” she said.
“Things I’m going to think back on will be conversations I’ve had with professors in their offices. It was a safe space for me where we could talk about things that were outside of a specific assignment. Those are memories, I’ll cherish.”

Richard hopes to pursue a degree in Indigenous Law in the future.