UBC announces 2024 honorary degree recipients

Izzeldin Abuelaish
Izzeldin Abuelaish

Thirteen remarkable individuals will receive honorary degrees this year from the University of British Columbia.

Among this year’s recipients are Academy Award-winning filmmaker Sarah Polley, human rights advocate Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, science-fiction writer William Gibson, founding Director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Ry Moran, and former Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UBC Okanagan and UBC Interim President Dr. Deborah Buszard.

"This year’s honorary degree recipients are remarkable examples of how passion, commitment and hard work can inspire people, ideas and actions for a better world," says UBC President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Benoit-Antoine Bacon. "I look forward to welcoming these very special individuals to UBC and to celebrating their achievements and spirit of service at graduation."

UBC grants honorary degrees-the highest honours conferred by the university-to deserving individuals who have made substantial contributions to society. Honorary degrees are conferred honoris causa, meaning "for the sake of honour," and are awarded as one of three types: Doctor of Laws, Doctor of Letters, and Doctor of Science.

"While a university’s primary role is to teach our students and conduct research, we also hope our university helps to inspire people-just as we have been inspired by this year’s honorary degree winners," says UBC Okanagan Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dr. Lesley Cormack. "It will be wonderful for our students to hear directly from our honorary degree recipients."

Seven honorary degrees will be conferred by UBC Vancouver while three will be conferred by UBC Okanagan during next month’s spring graduation ceremonies. Another two honorary degrees will be conferred this November at UBC Vancouver’s fall graduation ceremonies.

Here is the full list of honorary degree recipients for 2024:

UBC Vancouver’s Spring Graduation Recipients

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, Doctor of Laws

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish is a professor at the University of Toronto and advocate for women’s education, human rights, and health. Born and raised in Jabalia Refugee Camp in the GazaStrip, he made history as the first Palestinian to complete his medical residency in Israel where he fearlessly provided compassionate medical care, becoming a symbol of hope in improving Israeli-Palestinian relations. In 2009, he lost three daughters during an Israeli offensive in Gaza. In their memory, he founded the Canadian charity, Daughters for Life Foundation.

Hossein Amanat, Doctor of Letters

Hossein Amanat was among the first Iranian architects who distinguished their work by adhering to contemporary principles while applying lessons from traditional architecture. He established his international reputation at age 24, when he won a nationwide competition for the design of the Azadi Tower (formerly known as the Shahyad Tower) in Tehran. This led to numerous commissions for several of Iran’s most complex modern buildings, including its embassy in Beijing. After moving to Canada in 1980, his practice expanded, garnering even more prestigious commissions.

William Gibson, Doctor of Letters

UBC alumnus William Gibson emerged as a science fiction writer in the 1980s and has since produced a body of work including novels, short fiction, non-fiction and screenplays. His first novel, Neuromancer, which introduced both the now commonplace concept of "cyberspace" and the term itself, has been one of the more influential novels of the late twentieth century. He is a featured speaker at a wide range of conferences and a favoured source for journalists and other writers researching the reciprocal links between technology and society.

Dr. Austin Mardon, Doctor of Laws

Dr Austin Mardon is an accomplished geographer, writer, and researcher. As the founder of the Antarctic Institute of Canada, he has actively sought to provide opportunities for students to engage in meaningful work related to polar research, exploration, and environmental preservation. His legacy as a visionary and mentor is reinforced by significant contributions to the academic and professional development of students at UBC. A mental health and disability advocate, Dr. Mardon’s personal journey with schizophrenia has given him a unique perspective and empathy for those facing similar challenges.

Ry Moran, Doctor of Laws

Ry Moran is a champion for Truth, Reconciliation and human rights domestically and abroad and is widely recognized as a visionary leader for building and sustaining relationships that advance equity, diversity, inclusion and Indigenous rights. As founding Director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), he was responsible for laying the strategic foundations of the organization. In his current role at the University of Victoria as the inaugural Associate University Librarian for Reconciliation, he actively works to create spaces for decolonized practices within the library and beyond.

Dr. Rosemary Elizabeth Ommer, Doctor of Science

Dr. Rosemary Elizabeth Ommer is an economic historian and geographer with an international reputation for her ground-breaking contributions across multiple fields and disciplines. During the first three decades of her career, she designed and led international and transnational research initiatives in the fields of social-ecological systems, coastal communities and informal economies, the history of fisheries and environmental degradation. Her more recent work has focused on mentoring second-generation researchers. She has strong connections to UBC, including the UBC Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries.

Arran & Ratana Stephens, Doctor of Science

Arran and Ratana Stephens have been partners in life and in business for more than 50 years. Since founding Nature’s Path, Arran and Ratana have grown the company to become the largest organic cereal manufacturer in North America, selling products to more than 50 countries around the world. Lifelong stewards of the environment, the Stephens supported the 2008 Save the Farm campaign, which led to the rezoning of the UBC Farm as green academic space in the University’s land use plan. Since that time, they have contributed more than $40 million to philanthropic and community service efforts.

UBC Okanagan’s Spring Graduation Recipients 

Dr. Deborah Buszard, Doctor of Laws

Dr. Deborah Buszard is an accomplished academic, leader and a passionate advocate for the role universities play in society. Her leadership has had a profound and lasting impact at UBC. During her eight-year tenure as Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UBC Okanagan, she exemplified an unwavering dedication to helping a young campus transform into an institution with world-class academic programs and facilities. Most recently, she led UBC as its Interim President, serving from 2022-2023.

Ian Cull, Doctor of Laws

Ian Cull is a visionary and respected academic leader who has had an extraordinary and transformational impact on the lives of Indigenous students through his work at UBC Okanagan. He is a member of Dokis First Nation located in the Nipissing Territory, Ontario and is recognized nationally and internationally for his contributions in the post-secondary sector. His lifelong commitment to supporting student success is evident in his work to create unique and highly effective approaches to enhancing Indigenous student access and support at UBC Okanagan.

Raghwa Gopal, Doctor of Laws

Raghwa Gopal has long been a driving force for technological innovation in the Okanagan region and served as a mentor and role model for new entrepreneurs and students. In 2012, he helped create Accelerate Okanagan, the region’s first local accelerator for startups, where he also served as Executive in Residence providing key guidance to up-and-coming business owners. In 2015, he took on a more involved role at the organization as CEO. He remains active in the industry and in education, as a guest lecturer at UBC Okanagan and as an Advisory Board member for the UBC Sauder School of Business.

UBC Vancouver’s Fall Graduation Recipients

Bartha Maria Knoppers, Doctor of Laws

Bartha Maria Knoppers is Professor Emeritus, Canada Research Chair in Law and Medicine and Founding Director of the Centre of Genomics and Policy of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at McGill University. She is internationally recognized for her outstanding contributions on the legal and ethical aspects of genetics, genomics and emerging biotechnologies as well as the rights of children. She is a Co-Founder and member of the Board of Directors of the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH) and Co-Chair of the Ethics and Governance Working Group for the  Human Cell Atlas (HCA) .

Sarah Polley, Doctor of Letters

Sarah Polley is a Canadian filmmaker, writer, actress and political activist and Academy Award-winner for the 2022 film, Women Talking. After a long and prolific acting career that began at age four, she made her feature-length directorial debut with the drama film Away from Her in 2006, receiving an Oscar nomination for the screenplay, which she adapted from the Alice Munro story The Bear Came Over the Mountain. Her other projects include the film Stories We Tell (2012), which won the New York Film Critics Circle Prize for best documentary; the Netflix mini-series adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel Alias Grace (2017), and the romantic comedy Take This Waltz (2011). Her first book, Run Towards the Danger, was a national bestseller and winner of the 2022 Toronto Book Awards.

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