MacKenzie at the Gorsebrook

Self-made success

An appreciation of Graeme MacKenzie, SMUSA’s longest-serving staff member.

By James Patriquin | spring 2015

Sometimes when the president of the Students’ Association is lucky, one of the Alumni Officers will like them enough to approach them and ask if they would like to write an article for Maroon & White. Even better, sometimes when the president of the Students’ Association is very lucky, they’ll have someone who works with them who deserves the spotlight even more.

I wanted to use this opportunity to pay a long-overdue tribute to our longest-serving full-time staff member, Graeme MacKenzie. As a student at Saint Mary’s, Graeme worked and managed our liquor services department before graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (History) in 1989. For 11 years he worked managing bars and restaurants in Halifax before eventually finding his way back to SMUSA in February 2000, as our Operations Manager. In 2005 he won the Honourary Gold “M” award, which is the highest citation given by SMUSA to non-students. 

I’ve had the privilege of working with Graeme for just over two years now. Beginning in my position as Chief Returning Officer and lasting all the way through to my election as President, Graeme has always treated me with respect, as an adult, and most importantly, as his equal. His trust in our student staff gives them confidence, valuable experience, and an opportunity to put what they know to the test. 

Working with Graeme made me realize that to some people, working with us students is not just a way to pay the bills—it’s a way to make a positive impact on the lives of other people. Attending university is, more often than not, a very hectic and challenging stage in life. Without an effective support system, it is easy to slip through the cracks and come to nothing.

In February of this year we celebrated International Graeme Day, a self-deprecating 15th anniversary celebration of Graeme’s commitment and service to SMUSA. At lunch hour in the Gorsebrook we handed out a customized cake and donned pins with an embarrassing picture of Graeme sitting in the hot tub at an all-inclusive resort. The cake lasted longer than our stock of buttons, so apparently our target was a popular one. If you’re employed at Saint Mary’s, chances are you know Graeme. 

Even more telling of his popularity was the response on social media from current and former student staff. Testimonials were left from students who knew and worked with Graeme when I was still in middle school. People from SMUSA have gone onto achieve great things, but it seems we’re a hard organization to forget about. 

To finish our conversation I asked Graeme what his favuorite part about working at SMUSA was, expecting something sarcastic like “nice golf shirts” or “lots of time off buddy!” in return. Instead I was given a thoughtful account of how he enjoys watching people progress through their university career, helping them through challenges and following their success when they move on to bigger and better things. In recent years it’s even become much easier to keep in contact with people over Facebook. 

The work that our full-time staff does to support and encourage students is an early investment in successful and productive citizens. I know that without Graeme and our General Manager, Cathie Ross, I would not be the person I am today. Their guidance has helped me realize that to have an impact somewhere, you need to be willing to lead. Don’t follow someone else’s footsteps—make some footprints of your own. 

Altogether I think Graeme’s greatest contribution to SMUSA is helping students succeed on their own terms and these past two years working at the Students’ Association have been incredibly important for me. So in short I just wanted acknowledge my colleague and friend, Graeme MacKenzie. You’re an unreal dude, and even though we disagree sometimes, conflict leads to change, and change leads to growth. Thanks for helping us students grow.

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