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Former PM Chrétien receives honorary degree at U of W convocation

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Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was among the hundreds of students and staff who were awarded with fancy slips of paper today at the University of Winnipeg’s spring convocation ceremony.

Chrétien was awarded with an honorary doctorate of laws by U of W president and vice-chancellor, Lloyd Axworthy.

While presenting the award, Axworthy helped drape a regal robe across Chrétien’s shoulders, only momentarily choking the former PM.

"It's almost a Winnipeg handshake!" joked Chrétien.

In his retirement, Chrétien said he’s received more honorary diplomas than he can remember, but mentioned he never attended his own, first convocation ceremony.

"We were so poor that I had to work and not stay for the graduation ceremony," he said.

Chrétien said his U of W diploma was very important because it came from his friend and former finance and foreign affairs minister, Axworthy.

"Lloyd invited me and in a way, I wanted to be able to come and honour him. He was a very good politician and public servant. After he finished (in politics), he spent 10 more years at the university level with his dedication to public life... At the end of the day when you have a career like Lloyd’s career, you can be very proud."

Today’s ceremony was the second of three for U of W graduates this spring. Chrétien looked on, seated front-row centre, as all of the arts grads crossed the stage, shaking hands and posing for photo-ops.

Eventually, one graduate gathered the courage to make a bee-line out of the queue on stage.

Four-year bachelor of arts recipient, Rebecca Henderson, was the first to sneak over and shake Chrétien’s hand.

"I remember thinking when I was going up, there was two people at the end of the row and there was only one. So I thought, ‘this is my opportunity’," said Henderson.

Henderson said Chrétien seemed surprised by her forthrightness, but appreciative of her gesture. After Henderson shook Chrétien’s hand, a few other brave grads ventured to do the same throughout the ceremony.

"I said to him, ‘You gave a really great speech,’ and he said, ‘thank you’ and congratulated me... I think he was sort of surprised that I came over and I thought, ‘Well, I have a window of opportunity here, I’d better use it."

"He gave a really impassioned speech and I liked it. Even my dad who hasn’t always been a huge Chrétien fan enjoyed it. Everyone was moved by his speech."

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