Salute to president makes for ‘Uplifting’ evening

Indira Samarasekera honoured by university community, city and province for her decade of daring leadership.


(Edmonton) It was a night to celebrate community in every sense of the word.

University of Alberta faculty, staff and alumni, government and industry partners, and members of the wider community gathered at the Winspear Centre on Wednesday night to salute the decade of growth and change on campus, in Edmonton and across the province during the tenure of President Indira V. Samarasekera.

Health minister and former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel took the podium to herald the partnership between the city and university and to remark on how developments like Enterprise Square and South Campus have shaped the city. Minister of Advanced Education Don Scott spoke of how Samarasekera’s inspired leadership and tireless advocacy have benefited the province.

“During your time at the university, Indira, you have demonstrated visionary leadership, a broad global focus and a steadfast commitment to lifelong learning and to your community,” Scott said. “Your determination to promote Alberta to the world and the world to Alberta, and your dedication in giving back to your community, are a tremendous inspiration to all Albertans.”

U of A board chair Doug Goss announced that the Global Student Leadership Fund, established with a personal donation from Samarasekera to enable students to access transformative international experiences, has exceeded $600,000.

Former board chair Jim Edwards, who took part in the search that brought Samarasekera to the U of A in 2005, reflected on the change and growth in the campus community over the past decade, both in terms of its physical space and the accomplishments of its people.

“These teachers, researchers and students heeded President Samarasekera’s encouragement to dare to discover and followed her example to do great things,” Edwards said. “The results of her leadership are writ large on the University of Alberta and the city of Edmonton.”

Samarasekera’s response to the tribute was a lengthy list of thank-yous to colleagues, supporters and attendees.

“It has been a tremendous honour to be president these last 10 years, and a great privilege to play a part in Edmonton’s growth and development,” she said. “The legacy of the last decade is your legacy—it was created by all of us.”

Top entertainers, some of whom are U of A alumni, also chipped in to make the event memorable, from musical director Tommy Banks to country troubadour Corb Lund and local sax legend P.J. Perry to seven-year-old phenom Harry Knight, whose solo flamenco guitar performance threatened to steal the show. Actress and alumna Stephanie Wolfe served as MC for the event, which was sponsored by Magna International and Scotiabank.

“Tonight has been a sheer joy. It captured all that I experienced in my 10 years as an Albertan—community spirit, energy, humour and pride,” Samarasekera said. “I will remember this evening for the rest of my life.”

During a reception that preceded the performance, Goss and Edwards unveiled the official portrait of Samarasekera by Canadian artist David Goatley, who has more than 350 official portraits to his credit, including that of U of A’s 11th president, Rod Fraser.

The evening also saw the launch of Because We Dared, a new video and website honouring Samarasekera’s leadership and celebrating the entire U of A community’s accomplishments over the last decade to inspire, transform, achieve and uplift.