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Algonquin College graduates Class of 2015

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer

PEMBROKE - 

Algonquin College's Class of 2015 headed out into a big, uncertain world comforted with words of encouragement from one famous alumnus who has proven perseverance and hard work can shape your destiny.

Taking their first steps as the leaders of tomorrow, 240 graduates from the Pembroke Waterfront Campus were beaming as they received their diplomas in front of family, friends and faculty during a convocation ceremony at the Pembroke Memorial Centre.

Although this was the institution's 45th commencement, it was a special occasion as Algonquin welcomed back one of its best known graduates, Canadian country recording artist Jason Blaine. The college is honouring the multi-winner of the Canadian Country Music Awards for his successful career and community commitment by naming him this year's Alumnus of the Year.

There was a round of applause as the robed graduates from a diverse slate of trades programs, ranging from nursing and social worker to forestry technician and business administration, filed into the arena marking their final moments as college students. Delivering her remarks, Algonquin College president Cheryl Jensen congratulated the collegians and challenged them to go out and make a difference in the world.

"Here's where the future starts for you," said Jensen. "You're off and away. Don't ever stop learning. Don't ever stop stop re-inventing yourself. Algonquin has given you the skills to succeed along this remarkable journey."

Taking to the podium after receiving the alumnus award from the president, the Pembroke-born and raised Blaine told the graduates that when he first entered Algonquin College as a student in the business program he did it under his real name "Jason McEwen." He noted the family connection to the college carries on through his father, Blaine, who teaches a course at the campus.

"I stand before you today, not as someone at the end of his career, prepared to bestow all the wisdom of the world accumulated over a lifetime, one who has checked every box, achieved every success and acclimation in his field, nor as someone who has reached for and grasped the proverbial brass ring," said Blaine, who is releasing his sixth album this fall. "No, I simply stand before you today as someone who sat right where you are sitting and received his Algonquin diploma nearly 15 years ago, then set out into the world to begin studying for the real final exam - Life."

During his two years studying at the college, Blaine was an elected student representative on the college’s board of governors. After graduating from college he moved to Southern Ontario where he started recording his own music, before moving to the United States to be in the heart of the country music industry.

"I grew up here in Pembroke with two younger brothers and two loving parents in what I would consider a blue-collar, middle-class family of proud Canadians who taught me the virtues of hard work, family values, a mind for community and who always encouraged me to pursue my dreams," he recounted. "I enrolled at Algonquin, not as 'something to fall back on' or a 'plan-b' but rather as a time to prepare and gain some knowledge of the business world which I figured I would need to navigate the murky waters of the music industry."

Blaine asked the graduates to consider five principals when embarking on their new career paths - courage, character, commitment, content, and community. He encouraged his fellow alumni to give back to their community.

"Nobody makes it through the University of life on their own. You have had certain people in your life who have helped you get to where you are today," concluded Blaine. "Those who saw your potential and took the time to polish the diamond they knew you could become because they couldn't wait to watch you shine. You know who they are. Recognize the value in others and the value that others see in you."

Sharing the stage with Blaine was the 2015 Valedictorian Diedre Lambert, who called this commencement moment one of the special memories she and her fellow grads will leave Algonquin with. During her address, she said they were graduating from a great college noting that the expectations set for them by their teachers helped them to learn that hard work and determination was important, teamwork takes effort, and excelling isn’t easy, but going that extra mile was rewarding.

"You have made long lasting memories through the friendships you have created at the college, and I hope they will continue to get you through both the good and the hard times that will inevitably occur during your lifetime," said Lambert, a graduate of the office administration executive program. "Think of all of the things you have seen and done in your lifetime, because of a personal connection with someone who impacted your life in such a profound manor, that you have held that person near and dear to your heart."

She recounted how enrolling at Algonquin brought about mixed emotions about returning to school. However, when she walked through the doors of the campus, Lambert added she knew she immediately belonged here with the feeling that the people here believed in the fundamental values of caring and learning.

"Today as you graduate, you are not only creating a memory for yourself, but for all of those who are here today to support you and for all of those who wish they could be here in the final step of completing this phase of your life," Lambert concluded. "As you move on from today, remember to take the time to reflect upon yourself, think about where you have been, where you are now, and where you want to be. You are on an incredible journey, one that has just begun and the best part about it is, you are in the driver’s seat."

Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist