When he was named TRU’s second chancellor seven years ago, Wally Oppal took on a role that was new but one for which he was well suited.
The former BC Supreme Court judge and MLA gave inspirational speeches, shook thousands of hands and congratulated and posed for a never-ending stream of photos and selfies. For numerous graduates, he was a big part of their convocation day.
Oppal has enjoyed every convocation, every chat and every smile for every camera. But the time came to pass the torch, and he has. Former Simpcw Chief Nathan Matthew was named TRU’s third chancellor in March.
In his time with TRU, Oppal has forged a strong connection with the university. So strong, TRU is awarding him Chancellor Emeritus at spring convocation on Friday, June 8.
“I’m honoured they would do that for me,” he said.
“I have very fond memories of my seven years at TRU. I knew nothing about the role when I first went up there in 2011. I toured the university with Alan (Shaver) and it was so impressive, the view, the setting and the students.”
Often he runs into TRU graduates months or even years after their university days are done. They still remember him and tell him what his presence meant to them. Even while on a flight, he received a note from a passenger behind him who wrote how his words at convocation had stuck with her.
“It was a thrill and an honour to take part, not just in the lives of the students, but the life of the university.”
As a lawyer, Oppal has a particular bond with the TRU Faculty of Law. He was chancellor when the first class graduated and there is alumn at his law firm.
“Particularly the law students contact me more than anyone else, often for advice. It’s nice. I feel I’ll always have that link.”
His son started studying law at TRU, but moved to another university after a year. Oppal said it’s a move his son regrets, in retrospect.
“He never really got used to Kamloops. He said later he wished he’d finished at TRU because it has a young, creative faculty,” he said.
Another distinction about TRU, not just with Law but all faculties, is how convocation itself is celebrated. Oppal said at his son’s convocation, the room was silent. At TRU, there’s happiness and cheering and it’s all welcome.
“It’s a really happy time for everybody,” he said. Perhaps there’s even too much enthusiasm.
“My hand is quite tender by the end of the week.”
In his seven years as chancellor, Oppal has seen the university mature and the need for post-secondary education become even more important for the community and the country.
“It’s no longer just a job training process. It’s good we train people for so many vocations, but the fact, is we’re graduating citizens.”
As chancellor emeritus, he’ll always be associated with TRU.
“Thompson Rivers University really grows on you. It’s really touched my heart to be a part of it.”