Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser urges grads to make the most of their lives

Hayley Wickenheiser, celebrated Olympian, author and motivational speaker visited York University on Wednesday, June 21 to accept an honorary doctor of laws degree during spring convocation ceremonies for the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. 

Hayley Wickenheiser

Hayley Wickenheiser

Considered one of the best female hockey players in the world, Wickenheiser is a five-time Olympic medalist and seven-time World Championship medalist. At 15 years of age, she became the youngest member chosen for the Canadian Women’s National Team, which she later led to six gold and one silver medal at the Women’s World Hockey Championships. Her Olympic career spans five Winter Olympics between 1998 and 2014. Twice named one of The Globe and Mail’s “Power 50” influencers in sport, her many accolades also include being named #20 on Sports Illustrated’s Top 25 Toughest Athletes in the World in 2008. She was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2011 and inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2014. In addition to working with organizations such as JumpStart, KidSport, Project North and Right to Play, she provides mentoring opportunities for young athletes through The Canadian Tire Wickenheiser World Female Hockey Festival.

In her motivational address to graduands, Wickenheiser offered an animated and humourous recount of her life in the spotlight. She joked about parenting her beloved son Noah and marvelled at his individuality (he loves the military over sports).

She spoke to graduands about her focus on turning her hard-earned celebrity into helping others through a career in medicine and the power of education and having a dream and the support to achieve it. “I am just a little girl from Saskatchewan who had a dream to play hockey for the Edmonton Oilers,” she said, noting that her parents, who are both teachers, did not try to counter her dream by telling her that a girl could not play hockey. “I stand here front of you 30-some years later, simply to say that ‘I had a dream and I was allowed to go for it’ and great things happened,” she added.

Above: From left, Chancellor Greg Sorbara, Hayley Wickenheiser, and York President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri

She acknowledged that those present had different journeys to get to their degrees and paid tribute to 89-year-old Alma Kocialek, who was also graduating that day after starting her studies in 1978. “It took me a long time to get my bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree,” she said, noting that she earned her undergraduate degree over 16 years and in between Olympic Games.

“An education is more valuable to the world than any Olympic gold medal will ever be,” said Wickenheiser because education gives people “wings” and a chance to soar above adversity to new heights of excellence. She urged graduands to soar, to make a difference in the lives of others and to strive, in their own unique ways, for excellence.

As an example, she spoke about her career in a male-dominated sport. She told graduands that she hasn’t had a traditional bucket list, but a “buck-it” list where she’s had to buck gender, tradition, fear of failure and “don’t-rock-the-boat” mentality. She encouraged the graduating class of 2017 to focus on their own “buck-it” list and figure out what inspires and motivates them to get up each and every morning.

Wickenheiser was honoured by York University for her achievements as an athlete and her tireless work as a volunteer in promoting the power of sport and play to change the lives of children.