Two Sturgeon County residents are receiving highest honours in the 2019 University of Alberta Alumni Awards.
Later this month, Mona Nashman will be receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award for leadership in international education and dedication to ending Islamophobia.
Sturgeon County will also be represented on the Sports Wall of Fame this year, with Serge Lajoie being added to it after being named one of the most decorated hockey alumni ever with six championship rings.
Nashman was on a leave of absence from Edmonton Public Schools teaching at a private academy in Oman, a neighbouring country of Saudi Arabia, when two planes crashed into the World Trade Centre in 2001.
The tragedy preceded a new era of Islamophobia. Prior to the events of 9/11, Nashman said she had planned to return to Edmonton after her leave of absence, but world events caused her to stay on for another 13 years.
“I just didn’t feel I could leave the school. I thought, 'No I was brought here for a reason. I have to stay and work through what’s happening politically in our world,” she said.
Being raised in an Edmonton Islamic household, Nashman said she was only taught the “goodness of the faith,” and then all of a sudden there were all these individuals “distorting the faith.”
As head of the international American-British Academy (ABA) in Oman, Nashman said she gathered her students of 60 different nationalities following 9/11 to dispel some of the “angst” students were feeling.
“You are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts,” Nashman said she told the students. “This school is about respect, understanding and it’s about contributing to a better world.”
From there, Nashman went on to start an annual international student leadership symposium, which is still running today and has a mission of bringing student leaders together from around the world to contribute to the betterment of humanity.
After returning from Oman in 2014 due to medical issues, Nashman became principal of the Edmonton Islamic Academy. During her time there Nashman brought the community together to create a vision of interfaith and intercultural respect.
“Really again taking on Islamophobia through the eyes of students. We have a responsibility, too, to write a new narrative of Islam and that starts with being understanding and respectful of other faiths,” Nashman said.
She added combating Islamophobia is about focusing on all generations and saying everybody has a responsibility to choose how to make the world a better place.
“It’s not just the non-Muslims who are contributing to it. It’s we Muslims for being silent and not saying, 'Wait a minute, there’s another narrative that you’re not hearing,' ” Nashman said. “We allow these misguided views to become facts.”
To be awarded a distingued alumni award overwhelms and humbles Nashman. It will be a full circle for her, standing on the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium stage, having walked across in her gown and cap to receive her Bachelor of Education 40 years prior.
“I’ve had different awards in my lifetime, but nothing as meaningful as this one. Because this is where it all started,” she said.
Sports Wall of Fame
From starting out playing in four national championships with the Golden Bears to coaching the team when they became national champions in 2018, Sturgeon County resident Serge Lajoie is a decorated University of Alberta alumni.
Lajoie, 50, played as defencemen with the Golden Bears from 1988 to 1993 and went on to coach with the NAIT Ooks. He currently is midget prep coach with the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Edmonton.
While Lajoie played in four Canada West championships with the Golden Bears, it was not until he was Golden Bears assistant coach that they would become national championships twice, and a third time in 2018 while Lajoie was head coach.
Lajoie described that championship victory as a highlight of his career, that a sense of “meant to be” surrounded the whole tournament.
“As head coach, I really felt that sense of responsibly to make sure we maintain that tradition of excellence and legacy. That’s the one that really sticks out for me,” he said.
Among Lajoie’s many accomplishments are being named national player of the year for university hockey along with male player of the year at the University of Alberta during his last year there. He was also named coach of the year twice.
To be added to the University of Alberta’s Sports Wall of Fame is quite “humbling,” Lajoie said.
“It’s an honour, quite humbling knowing that there’s a lot of not only good athletes and coaches that have been recognized but also good contributing members to society in many different capacities.”
Both Lajoie and Nashman will be honoured during the University of Alberta’s Alumni Awards ceremony at the Jubilee Sept. 19.