TRU honours two women who overcame dire childhoods

Elder Mona Jules from the Simcpw First Nation and Vera Schiff have led very different lives

Elder Mona Jules, Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, is a member of the Simpcw First Nation. She is a respected researcher and Secwepemcstín language instructor who has devoted her career to fostering and revitalizing her traditional language. (TRU submitted photo)

One survived the BC residential school system, the other survived a Nazi concentration camp. Both are recipients of honorary doctorates from Thompson Rivers University at this spring’s convocation.

Elder Mona Jules from the Simcpw First Nation and Vera Schiff have led very different lives, but they share unshakable perseverance and an understanding that education can lift up our culture and our world.

These two outstanding women will be conferred honorary doctorates during the Virtual Convocation Ceremony on Monday, June 22, 2020. This year, the ceremony is being held online to comply with health regulations around social distancing and gatherings.

The honorary degree is the highest form of recognition offered by TRU and awarded for demonstrated excellence in the fields of public affairs, the sciences, arts, humanities, business, law and philanthropy.

“The word ‘inspiring’ does not begin to describe the adversity that these women have overcome, nor does it capture all that they have achieved. I am so proud that TRU is conferring Elder Mona Jules and Vera Schiff with these degrees in recognition of the amazing contributions they have made to their communities and to the world as a whole,” said Brett Fairbairn, TRU President and Vice-Chancellor.

Elder Mona Jules, Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, is a member of the Simpcw First Nation. She is a respected researcher and Secwepemcstín language instructor who has devoted her career to fostering and revitalizing her traditional language. Jules has encouraged the proliferation of the Secwepemcstín language through her lifetime of work and, more recently, alongside the Secwépemc Cultural Education Society and First Voices by creating a living database and historical record of Secwepemcstín. Throughout her career, Jules has worked as a Secwépemc language instructor, including her time as a sessional instructor for Secwepemcstín at TRU. Most recently, she rejoined SFU through its Language Program at the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council to continue to innovate Secwepemcstín curriculum and help increase understanding of the language in political spheres. She has also contributed to the development of a Secwepemc language spoken calendar, dictionary, additional digital recordings and written curriculum. Jules’s efforts to reclaim and revitalize Indigenous language through education and advocacy exemplify the respect for Indigenous knowledge and the values of inclusion that TRU strives to foster in its students.

Vera Schiff, Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, is a Holocaust survivor, educator and award-winning author who has devoted her life to spreading the message of tolerance and morality. Born in 1926 in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Schiff’s life was forever changed after Nazi Germany occupied the country in 1939. At 16, Schiff and her family were deported to Theresienstadt, a transit camp for Jews en route to extermination camps. Schiff spent three years in subhuman conditions, watching as her parents, sister and grandmother perished. She was liberated in 1945 by the Russian army and she and her husband left Czechoslovakia in 1949, spending 12 years in Israel before emigrating to Canada in 1961. In Ontario, Schiff worked as a hematologist at Toronto General Hospital. In 1991, she retired and revisited her tragic memories of life in Theresienstadt. She devoted her time to reflecting on and speaking about her experiences and has written seven books. Schiff’s message on the need for resistance and moral action has contributed to the betterment of humanity and exemplifies the determination and pursuit of justice that TRU strives to foster in its students.

Source: Michele Young, Thompson Rivers University

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