The University of Regina honoured a pair of Western Hockey League Alumni with honourary degrees last week, recognizing them for their incredible contributions to the community.
Both Brad Hornung, who played for the Regina Pats, and Sheldon Kennedy, who played for the Moose Jaw Warriors and Swift Current Broncos, were recognized by the academic institution during one of their three convocation ceremonies.
“First, I would like to thank the University for awarding me this honorary degree,” mentioned Hornung during his acceptance speech. “It is especially meaningful because I am a University of Regina alumnus, having received my history degree on this stage in 1996.
“I am honoured to receive another degree 22 years later. Better late than never, I always say!”
Hornung played 126 games over the course of three seasons making his debut in the 1984-85 campaign with the Pats and recording 101 points (49G-52A). During the 1986-87 season, Hornung suffered a severe spinal cord injury during a game and was left a quadriplegic. The WHL now annually recognizes a player that combines talent, desire and an unmistakable sportsmanlike attitude with the Brad Hornung Trophy as the WHL’s Most Sportsmanlike Player.
The former Pats forward shared his message of perseverance, dedication and overcoming challenges in life with graduates from the academic institution.
“You are on this stage today because you found something in yourself that helped you overcome these challenges,” Hornung continued. “And what you found in yourself might have been something you didn’t even know you had! How you responded to adversity in those difficult times has helped define you, show your character, and get you here today.
“This is an exciting day for you – and I know there are many more exciting times ahead. But it is important to understand that, like in your university career, in your life you will also have difficult days – times of tremendous challenge, pain, heartbreak and loss. In those dark times, I know you will find something in yourself that will help you move on in a positive way.”
To share the experience, Hornung referenced circumstances felt by those he knew, from those who came through the doors at the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre, a neighbour who was also a fellow quadriplegic and now studying law, and those affected by the Humboldt Broncos tragedy.
Hornung’s pursuit of higher education led him to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Campion College at the University of Regina in 1996.
“If there is a moral to my story, it is that people tend to underestimate themselves and how well they would react to difficult circumstances,” he added. “You may be one of those people who underestimate yourself, but you need to believe in yourself, knowing in your heart that you will find a way to cope with whatever life throws at you.
“I don’t fully understand how we find that strength in difficult times, but we nearly always do.”
Brad still stayed close to the game of hockey, scouting for the Chicago Blackhawks and most currently working with NHL Central Scouting to identify upcoming prospects. Hornung still follows the Pats closely, attending every home game to perform his duties as a scout. The Pats have retired Hornung’s jersey.
Speaking to graduates ready to go out and embrace what the world has for them, Hornung had a message of hope for those, regardless of their situation.
“The bad news is that unpleasant things are going to happen to all of you at one time or another in your lives; sadly, that is a fact,” he said. “The good news, however, is that you have the strength within you to face these challenges in ways you cannot even imagine right now. Happily, that is also a fact. And it is the most important one to remember.
“Congratulations on your graduation, and please don’t ever forget – even in what may seem like your darkest hour, there is always a place in your life for hope.”
Also recognized by the University of Regina was Sheldon Kennedy, who played 175 games in the WHL with the Warriors and Broncos has become a champion of abuse prevention.
A former member of Canada’s gold-medal winning squad at the 1988 World Junior Championship and a Memorial Cup Champion with the Broncos in 1989, Kennedy’s career of giving back and supporting others after the end of his professional hockey career.
In 1998, Kennedy raised $1.2 million for the Canadian Red Cross’ bullying and abuse prevention programs by roller-blading across Canada. He later co-founded Calgary-based Respect Group Inc., which delivers online training programs designed to prevent bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination in sport, school, and the workplace. More than one million Canadians have completed one of the three programs and are now Respect certified.
Kennedy’s life story was the subject of a television movie that aired in 1999. A video documentary of his life and advocacy activities, titled Swift Current, premiered in that city in 2016 when Kennedy was inducted into the Broncos’ Hall of Fame. He is the lead director of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre in Calgary, which employs a multidisciplinary approach to assess, treat, and seek justice for children who have been physically and sexually abused.
Kennedy’s work has been recognized by countless organizations and, in 2015, he was named a Member of the Order of Canada.