Abraham Jolly believes in the value of education. This week the Briercrest alumnus experienced how much his alma mater believes in him.
Jolly, who now serves as the director general of the Cree school board in Quebec, received an honourary doctorate at this year’s graduation ceremony. President Dwayne Uglem presented the award.
“Abraham Jolly is worthy of honour,” he said. “He is a man of great vision for the communities of northern Quebec and for Canada. He has courageously stepped forward to find a way to do education that will help his people succeed – both in the celebration of their language and culture – and in the attainment of educational foundations that will open doors to employment and contribution in our country and in our world.”
As director general, Jolly oversees the elementary and secondary schools of the nine communities that comprise the Cree Nation.
“I oversee all the departments, all the schools – pretty well everything,” he explained. “We also have an adult sector . . . which is upgrading and vocational programs.”
Under Jolly’s supervision, the Cree nation conducted a major review of its education system.
“It put us in the position to be more strategic in how we do education – in the planning aspect of it, but also in terms of how the plan unfolds and what it looks like; what the priority areas are then how you implement things,” he explained. “That’s basically the stage that we’re at right now.”
All the tedious work involved in this sort of review aims toward an important goal for the director general.
“To see our generation of young people to be more educated and to be able to be successful in completing the high school levels for one thing,” Jolly exclaimed. “Then for them to enter into post-secondary levels of education. Of course from there you’d like to see success leading into careers and opportunities. We’re talking about playing a role or a part here in terms of how we build our nation, and how we do education becomes very foundational to that.”
Jolly, who has earned a BA and an MA from Briercrest, understands firsthand about the challenges First Nations students often face in pursuing higher education. He reflects on the situation he and his two older brothers Allan and Joe encountered when they first enrolled in college at Briercrest in the 1970s.
“Being a First Nations student I’m glad I came with my two brothers, because we really supported each other,” he said. “The idea of college was really distant for us in terms of whether that was possible for us. So it was a bit scary coming here – outside of the fact that we were coming to ‘no man’s land’ in terms of where it was. English wasn’t my first language either. I felt the struggle to fit in socially speaking. But then when I got involved with hockey that certainly helped.”
The Briercrest alumnus admits he had a range of emotions when he was approached about receiving an honourary doctorate.
“I think my initial response was, ‘Whoa, wait a minute,’” he exclaimed. “I was given some time to think about it, which I did. I’d say I was really caught between refusing it or accepting it.”
Jolly finally came to terms with accepting the honour.
“The only conclusion I came to is that I humbly accept it as something that my own institution recognizes as far as who I am and the contributions that they’ve seen me make,” he explained. “I’m also kind of humbled in a way to know that this is what they would want to honour me with.”
Receiving the award causes Jolly to pause and reflect on his long history with Briercrest.
“Looking back from the time I was in college, it’s quite something,” he mused. “Coming as a student to Briercrest very shy – I hardly said anything. Just trying to struggle through college and then finding my place – having (teachers) like Paul Magnus and Dwayne Uglem who are more like colleagues in a way now. That’s quite something. Briercrest is close to my heart.”