St. Lawrence College, through its Board of Governors, may recognize the outstanding achievements of individuals or organizations by awarding Honorary Diplomas to those whose accomplishments are of such excellence, inspiration, and leadership, that they serve as an example and inspiration for the students and graduates of our college. To that end, consideration is not limited to a community or regional nominees but may also include those individuals who represent provincial, national, or international achievement.

The recommendation of nominees for the distinction of honorary diploma is considered based on academic or social achievement, intellectual or social contribution, and resonance with the mission, vision and values of St. Lawrence College. Our criteria reflect our values of student first, teamwork, innovation, integrity and belonging. We are committed to showcasing those who role model honesty, inclusivity, and accountability as pathways to success. Nominations for the distinction of honorary diploma is a celebration of diversity, respect for differences and a sense of belonging.

Nominations are accepted year-round. Nominations received by January 31, 2024 will be considered by the St. Lawrence College Board of Governors for our Spring 2024 convocation ceremonies. Please click here to complete the nomination form.

Honorary Diploma Criteria

  1. Overall accomplishments: What is the significance of the nominee’s contributions?
  2. Resonance with SLC mission, vision & values: Is the nominee’s accomplishments in support of, and in alignment with the mission, vision, and values of the college? 
  3. Resonance and relevance to graduates and guests: Will the nominee’s presence, message, or representation resonate with the graduates and audience?
  4. Community Engagement: Has the nominee positively impacted their local and broader community?
  5. Belonging: We believe honesty, inclusivity, and accountability as the pathways to success. As our communities continue to evolve, we look to create a sense of belonging for our students, teams, and partners and have pledged to celebrate diversity, respect our differences, value contributions, and foster an environment where everyone feels they can participate without discrimination.
    Does this nominee demonstrate alignment with the college’s value of belonging?

2024 Honorary Diploma Recipients

Lindsey Belch

CEO, Girls Inc., Kingston

What does this award mean to you personally?

St. Lawrence College is my alma mater, and my work at Girls Inc. has been intertwined with the College for more than 30 years now. It is such an honour to have been even nominated for this very special award. Being considered and selected by the Board of Governors for my work in our community is truly a highlight of my career.

How have SLC students or the College in general intersected with your work or community?

I have been the CEO of Girls Inc. Limestone since 1992. We provide programs and support for more than 1,500 girls, women and gender-expansive individuals every year to overcome adversity, be safe in this world, and prepare for financial self-sufficiency.

St. Lawrence College has been an instrumental partner in our work and growth. We are proud of the fact that most of our 15 staff members are St. Lawrence grads. This has been the case since we were founded in 1972 and will continue long into the future.

We have also been fortunate to have placement students work by our side to provide direct support to our program participants. We regularly have Social Service Worker and Child and Youth Care students on board and welcome interns from any program relevant to our work. We greatly appreciate this hands-on support and always give first consideration to our past and current students for paid positions.

Over the years, we have participated in many speaking opportunities at the Kingston campus. Through our partnerships and connections three College staff members have joined on our Board of Directors who are dedicated to driving our mission forward in the community.

We have also gravitated to the College's exceptional event spaces, where we hosted our Annual Art Auction from 2006 to 2009. We now host our annual Girls Summit in the Event Centre for 150 girls and gender-expansive young people.

What path have you followed that sees you here today? What were some ingredients of your success?

During my studies at St. Lawrence College, I engaged in the college community, joining the student newspaper team as Entertainment Editor of "The Nomad." I had no idea at that time that this joining and belonging would become a key part of my education and personal and work life that followed. This was the start of my understanding that a critical ingredient to success is to develop meaningful, authentic relationships - personally and professionally. To pay attention and focus more on others and less on myself. To always look for the bright side in every situation. To listen carefully to understand the needs of others and never assume I know. And to do what I can do to help.

I graduated with a School of Business diploma in Advertising and Public Relations in 1982. The timing was terrible as we were at the height of one of the two most serious recessions in Canadian history. This became an unexpected fork in my path, resulting in me taking positions unrelated to my field for some time to make a living.

It was also immediately following my graduation that I contacted Big Sisters in Kingston and signed up. I became a Big Sister to an amazing girl, and for almost six years, we kept each other company, learning and growing together.

A few years into my time as a Big Sister, I was asked to join the Board of Directors. I again belonged to something larger than myself and learned how to make good decisions while keeping the most important factors in mind – the impact on those we work for.

Although not part of my original plan, this time was formative because I learned to work hard. To not give up or in, and to always strive to make ends meet in difficult times. By adding this experience to my public relations and business abilities gained in college, I was fully prepared and ready for the most important role in my career I would take on in 1992 – the Executive Director of Big Sisters of Kingston – now Girls Inc. of Limestone, Algonquin and Lakeshore.

Another critical part of my journey was recognizing and pursuing learning opportunities when I needed more information or education to excel in my role and lead our team. Over the years, I have participated in formal and informal educational opportunities in executive leadership, governance and administration, adult education and empowerment, graphic design, diversity, equity and inclusion, and others. I have also hired and guided many seasoned social workers and new graduates. I support our team and ensure they take care of themselves while they take care of others and encourage them to discover their strengths, learn new skills and take on new tasks.

In my personal life, I have used my life-long love of music to achieve balance in my work and personal life, writing songs and playing guitar and keys in performing bands. My bandmates and I have worked for years on numerous festival boards to provide gig opportunities for women in our community.

Finally, one of the most important factors to the success of my work and, in turn, our agency is that I have been all in. Engaged, hard-working, and grateful. I have been ready and willing to take on whatever tasks are needed to achieve our goal of eradicating inequity to improve the experiences and opportunities for girls, women and gender-expansive people and change the world.

Who has been your biggest inspiration, and why?

I am inspired by those around me every day and always have been. It is what keeps me going and always striving to improve. I was very fortunate to have amazing familial support in all ways during my formative years and beyond. Their support gave me the strength and inspiration to choose a path at the age of 17 and confidently follow the unexpectedly winding road I travelled on as it unfolded.

The exceptionally high quality and life-changing support provided to our participants by Girls Inc. staff members is a significant source of inspiration for me. Every staff member provides nurturing, creative, and often emotionally difficult support to more than 1,500 individuals every year. Our staff's service excellence and participants' successful outcomes highly motivate me to raise the funds we need to decrease our waiting lists and serve more girls, women and gender-expansive individuals who need our help.

But our participants themselves have been the most significant source of my inspiration for more than 30 years. Despite many having seemingly insurmountable, intersectional barriers, they desire a better life for themselves and, often, for their children. They work very hard to overcome the significant inequities that hinder them from finishing high school or attending post-secondary, trade school, or other career paths. Many are unhoused or have insecure or unsafe housing. A very high percentage have been victims of gender-based violence. Many have mental health concerns or disabilities. Obstacles are heightened even further for our BIPOC, 2SLGBTQIA+, or racially diverse participants.

Yet, in almost every case, when provided support that meets their individual needs, they set and meet goals to achieve self-sufficiency. As I read the notes of appreciation we often receive, I am inspired by their tenacity and hard work. I am proud of our team, and I am grateful for the winding path that has led me here.

What words of inspiration/wisdom can you share with SLC graduates?

Every one of us has our own winding path to follow. Having made that first step in choosing your field and working hard at your studies, you've finally arrived here - a graduate of St. Lawrence College. CONGRATULATIONS! Savour this moment and celebrate with your classmates, family and friends. You are amazing.

Then, take a deep breath and forge ahead. You will benefit from developing a 3 to 5-year plan and then taking it one step at a time. Celebrate every success and reassess and fine-tune your plan at every fork in the road.

Always seek opportunities for life-long learning to help you deepen your understanding of your work and gain new information and skills. And along the way, look for new places to belong. Your life will be richer for it, and you will be surprised how many personal and professional opportunities will be provided when you support the people around you and those in your community.

Be safe, be strong, be kind, be grateful and be sure to balance work with the things you love to do. And finally, always remember that you are amazing just the way you are, and walk your path - wherever it may lead - with confidence.

Michael Harris

Founding Director, Kingston Employment and Youth Services

What does this award mean to you personally?  

I am touched that the nomination came from a long-time work colleague. I worked with Gillian Watters (a St. Lawrence graduate) for over 37 years. She came to KEYS as a placement student and is now Director of Employment Services.  

Also, my son will graduate from St. Lawarence this spring and getting this recognition alongside him is meaningful. I have much respect for the work of the College. In my 41 years as Executive Director at KEYS we have had placement students from the College each year. I have firsthand knowledge of the quality of those graduating.  

How have SLC students or the college in general intersected with your work or community?  

As noted above, in my 41 years at KEYS we have always supported students with work placements and looked to hire many after graduation. The quality of the students that have come our way has always impressed me.  In fact, two of the six members of the current KEYS Leadership Team came to KEYS as placement students. 

What path have you followed, that sees you here today? What were some ingredients of your success?  

In my 46 years working in the community-based sector I have often noted that my path is that of service. I would describe my leadership style as “Servant Leadership.” Services is at the core of KEYS activities, and it is at the core of my leadership philosophy. I view leadership as the development of a serving relationship with others that inspires their growth and development and inspires collective action towards a defined mission.  

Who has been your biggest inspiration, and why?  

My father was an early inspiration in the way that matters pertaining to equity and inclusion and was at the forefront of how he viewed the world and lived his life.  

In my 30s Ram Dass became an inspiration. I first encountered the voice of Ram Dass in 1987, via his book How Can I Help. Ram Dass (1931–2019) first went to India in 1967. At that time, he was still Dr. Richard Alpert, an already eminent Harvard psychologist. In this book, he provides support and inspiration for us in our efforts as members of the helping professions, as volunteers, as community activists, or simply as friends and family trying to meet each other's needs. It was also through the teaching of Ram Dass that I grew to know India and its many great spiritual teachers. I have journeyed to India on eight different occasions, and to various other parts of the world. These journeys have shaped my life.  

This quote from Anthony Bourdain resonates with me: “Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” Maybe travel has been my greatest teacher. 

What words of inspiration/wisdom can you share with SLC graduates? (A perspective or attitude to approach your career with practical advice, such as pursuing a professional designation, lifelong learning, networking, etc.)  

My work life and travel experiences have taught me much about who I am. My message to SLC graduates is not to ignore the exploration of who you are. Look for opportunities for self-exploration. You owe it to the world to be the best version of yourself. Through the identification and mobilization of your gifts you can change the world. The Tao Te Ching states that “knowing others is wisdom; knowing the self is enlightenment.” Understanding one’s innate gifts and talents allows you to begin to develop them. 

Neha Chugh

Founder, Chugh Law Professional Corporation, Cornwall

What does this award mean to you personally?   

This award is of tremendous meaning to me. It signifies change, a focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion, and acceptance of newcomers to this wonderful community. When I opened my law practice in Cornwall in 2014, I was a newcomer to the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas, Glengarry, and Akwesasne. The early days were not easy, but I found my way through community support and local networks. I am grateful to all the clients and community members who trusted me, often on their hardest days. 

I found my way as a lawyer in Cornwall by focusing on Chugh Law’s priorities of serving our clients, providing affordable legal services to the community, and promoting access to justice in the East region. I nurtured my support network in the community and built a strong team at Chugh Law. It is my personal goal to ensure that all newcomers to Cornwall are welcomed with compassion and respect.  

How have SLC students or the college in general intersected with your work or community?  

I have had the opportunity to teach at both St. Lawrence College and Iohahi:io in Akwesasne, opportunities that have been the bright spots of my career. As an Instructor, I have always felt like I have learned just as much from the students as the students learn from the curriculum. I have hired St. Lawrence College graduates and am proud of the high quality of work they continue to contribute to Chugh Law.  I have made wonderful friends who work at the college and who are passionate about honing their skills as educators – Jennifer Haley and Denise Nielson to name just a few. I am so grateful to be surrounded by the hard work and pedagogy that comes out of SLC.  

What path have you followed, that sees you here today? What were some ingredients of your success?  

I am what is labelled in professional circles as a “trailing spouse,” meaning I followed my husband east of our respective hometowns in south-western Ontario for his career.  At the time of our big move just over a decade ago, I was a mom to our toddler and had just given birth to our second daughter.  Life was a blur for our family, of building careers, babies, and trying to establish ourselves in a part of the world that was new to us.    

I embraced the new challenge and set out to accomplish my goal of building community capacity in Cornwall via an access to justice model at Chugh Law.  It was grit, determination, hard work, and a deep love for the law that helped our team meet these goals. Every day, our clients, the community of Cornwall, trust us to serve them. This trust is sacred to us, and in return we do our best to deliver high quality legal services.  This is a significant responsibility, one that we take very seriously. I have surrounding myself with a team of staff and lawyers with shared commitment our clients as well as Chugh Law’s goal of facilitating Access to Justice to the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas, Glengarry, and Akwesasne. 

Who has been your biggest inspiration, and why?

My maternal grandmother, my lovely nanima, who passed away in 2020.  She came to Canada from New Delhi, India in the 1970s, with three children. She never let them, or any of her seven grandchildren, forget the importance and magic of education.  She retrained as a teacher at York University when she came to Canada, while also working the night shift at a button factory to support the family. After she requalified as a teacher, she worked as a primary school teacher for decades with the Toronto District School Board, focusing her work on special education. She was patient and kind.  She embodied love, grit, humour, and compassion.  I miss her every day and am inspired by her memory.  When she passed away, our family was proud to create a scholarship in her name at the Faculty of Education at York University.

What words of inspiration/wisdom can you share with SLC graduates? (A perspective or attitude to approach your career with practical advice, such as pursuing a professional designation, lifelong learning, networking, etc.) 

Be courageous! Say yes to new opportunities that you push your boundaries of comfort and safety. You don’t know where your life is going to take you and it can be very uncomfortable to stand up for what is right. 

Growing up in India, my grandmother had no idea that she would be raising her children and working as a teacher in Toronto. Tremendous courage put her on a plane to immigrate to Canada in the 1970s. Twenty years ago, I did not see my career blossoming in a place called Cornwall, and to fall in love with serving this community.  

At that time, I was planning a completely different career as a social worker in my hometown of Guelph, not as a lawyer in eastern Ontario. Bravely saying yes to new opportunities for education and my career carved a path for me that was completely unplanned. There were so many days that were uncomfortable – bad days in court, missing my kids’ special events because I was stuck at work, tense moments with other professionals. It is ok to experience failure, but with courage and heart, my life has sent me in a positive trajectory because I maintained a good attitude, an open mind, and welcomed opportunities that were presented to me. 

Be brave!  Give yourself a voice to the community’s most vulnerable. Find your medium – writing, speaking, poetry, music, community service in the trades. Highlight your strengths and let yourself shine! 

Sherri Fournier Hudson

Executive Director of the Upper Canada Family Health Team, Brockville

What does this award mean to you personally?  

Receiving this award is a complete surprise and a tremendous honor.  I am not one to enjoy the limelight, so this is a little outside my comfort zone. To me, this award also acknowledges the many people that I have been fortunate to work with over the years. My motto is that it takes a community to get things done. 

How have SLC students or the college in general intersected with your work or community?  

Working in healthcare, St. Lawrence College plays an integral role in so many areas. Specifically, the nursing and the medical administrative students and graduates have intersected with our work in the community. 

Thinking back to the Covid-19 pandemic, the students and new graduates played an instrumental role in the human resources for the Assessment Centre and the Vaccine Centre.

What path have you followed, that sees you here today? What were some ingredients of your success?  

Well, I am not sure you would describe it as a path… perhaps as a hike with some twists and turns!  

With quite a bit of coaxing from my dad, I attended and graduated from Georgian College with three-year Business diploma with a minor in Automotive Marketing. From there I attended Northwood University and obtained my Bachelor of Business. 

Once back working in the family business, Rockway Pontiac Buick, I applied to attend General Motors Institute in their executive studies program which I graduated from in 1994. 

In 2008, I began looking for a change in careers. Through all my education and work experience, I had learned, I had a strong passion for assisting and finding solutions specifically with people and communities. 

In Jan 2009, I made the leap into healthcare administration as the executive director with the Upper Canada Family Health Team. I have continued to upgrade my education in healthcare administration through Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. 

Who has been your biggest inspiration, and why? 

I have been blessed to be surrounded by two great families: my parents and my husband’s parents. Their work ethic and involvement in the community has certainly been an inspiration to me which I carry with me every day. My husband Ted and I have been diligent to carry on from our parents’ examples; to instill work ethic and strong commitment to community in our children Catherine and Joseph. 

What words of inspiration/wisdom can you share with SLC graduates? (A perspective or attitude to approach your career with practical advice, such as pursuing a professional designation, lifelong learning, networking, etc.)  

Finding your passion is a key ingredient and this may take some time. Don’t be afraid to change course, embrace change! If you find your passion, you will never work another day. 

There are many ways to reach your destination and no experience is a waste whether it is education, different careers, volunteering in your community or networking. Enjoy the journey!