Honorary Diploma

NorQuest College’s Honorary Diploma is one of the highest accolades our college can bestow. An honorary diploma recognizes distinguished individuals who have made extraordinary achievements, performed a service or who have had a transformational impact on the college or wider society, and who serve as examples to our college’s learners.

Honorary Diploma nominations

NorQuest College faculty, staff, board, and community members are eligible to nominate a deserving individual for a Honorary Diploma. Nominations are open year round. Please submit your completed nomination form to presidentsoffice@norquest.ca.

Honorary Diploma Nomination Form – Fillable PDF

NorQuest College Honorary Diploma winners

2024 recipient - Zahra Somani

Zahra Somani

Zahra is a lifelong entrepreneur with a track record of impact in the healthcare and education sectors. 

She currently serves as Chief Advancement Officer at the Aga Khan University, a leading university and hospital system that serves over two million patients and 3600 students annually across its six campuses on three continents.

After starting her career as a teacher, Zahra became an entrepreneur. For over two decades, she has been a Partner at Pirani Group, an Edmonton-based company that owns and operates retail and restaurant franchises across Canada and employs nearly 1,000 people.

Zahra's commitment to community building is evident in her leadership roles. She has chaired the boards of the Edmonton Community Foundation (through the COVID-19 pandemic) and the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation. Her service extends to the University of Alberta and Edmonton Elks, where she served on the boards. Notably, she chaired NorQuest College's $20 million capital campaign, showcasing her ability to manage diverse responsibilities.

Zahra served as President of the Aga Khan Council for Edmonton for eight years and is widely recognized for integrating her experiences across business, academia, and healthcare to build civil society. She was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal for her service to Canadians.

2024 recipient - Lewis Cardinal

Lewis Cardinal

Lewis Cardinal is a communicator and educator. Lewis has dedicated his life’s work to creating and maintaining connections and relationships that cross cultural divides. His long track record of local and international public service currently includes: Board Member of Theatre Network Society, Vice-Chair of the Documentary Organization of Canada-Alberta, Chair of the Global Indigenous Dialogue of Initiatives of Change-International, Trustee for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and Honorary Board Member, Board of Sponsors, Martin Luther King Jr., International College of Ministers and Laity at Morehouse College in Atlanta, USA, to mention a few.

Lewis has received two medals from Queen Elizabeth II, the Diamond Jubilee Medal for Public Service and the Platinum Jubilee Medal for his contributions to the Province of Alberta, Canada, as well as the IndSpire Award for Public Service (awarded by Indigenous peoples of Canada), the Province of Alberta’s Centennial Medal for his work in Human Rights and Diversity, the Distinguished Alumni Award from Grant MacEwan University, and the Honorary Degree of “Doctor of Sacred Letters” from St. Stephen’s College at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Lewis is Woodland Cree from the Sucker Creek Cree First Nation in Treaty No. 8 in northern Alberta, Canada. His consulting company, Cardinal Strategic Communications, specializes in Indigenous education, communications, and project development. He is also the owner, CEO, and Head Storyteller of Red Earth Blue Sky Productions, a media productions company. Currently, Lewis is Project Manager for “kihcihkaw askî–Sacred Land” in the City of Edmonton, Canada's first designated urban Indigenous ceremony grounds.

2024 recipient -Jasneet Parmar

Jasneet Parmar

Dr. Parmar is a Professor at the Department of Family Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta, with over 30 years of experience as an academic, educator, clinician, and advocate in seniors' care.

Throughout her career as a medical educator, healthcare provider, leader, and family life, Dr. Parmar has shown NorQuest's core values of respect, safety, and inclusion. In her work with under-served populations of patients with complex care needs, frail older people, and caregivers, she has worked tirelessly to muster collaboration towards a more inclusive and compassionate healthcare system that respects the dignity and well-being of all its members. She recognized the need for interdisciplinary staff education in caring for the elderly and has been immersed in their training throughout her career.

Her most significant transformational work has been galvanizing the healthcare system to support family caregivers and bringing together key stakeholders in the process. This collaborative initiative has gathered tremendous momentum, with stakeholders working together across the continuum of care, across health and social sectors, across Alberta and Canada, to bring family caregivers out of the shadows, recognize them, and work towards supporting them.

Past winners

2023 recipient - Chief Wilton Littlechild

Wilton Littlechild is a Cree and the former Grand Chief of Treaty No. 6, with five Honorary Doctorate of Laws. He has exemplified tremendous leadership throughout his career as an exceptional lawyer, respected elected official, and accomplished athlete. He has worked tirelessly to promote human rights, in particular those of Indigenous peoples.

Born in Alberta, Chief Littlechild was raised largely at residential schools from 1951 to 1964, where he survived and succeeded by concentrating on study and sport. After high school, he earned a Bachelor of Physical Education degree in 1967 before studying law.

In 1976, Chief Littlechild became the first Alberta Treaty First Nation person to receive a law degree from the University of Alberta, at a time when there were only three lawyers of Indigenous descent in Canada. As a lawyer, he is known as a pioneer for the global Indigenous rights movement and has worked with the United Nations for more than 45 years, advocating for the rights of Indigenous peoples all over the world.

Among his many awards and accomplishments, Chief Littlechild was the first Treaty Indian Member of Parliament from 1988 to 1993. He also was inducted as a Member of the Order of Canada in 1999, recipient of three Queen’s Medals and the Order of Sport, and has been inducted into nine Sports Halls of Fame including Canada and North America.

2023 recipient - Blaine LaBonte, ICD.D and Irene Mertz LaBonte

Blaine LaBonte, ICD.D

When Blaine LaBonte joined Cougar Drilling Solutions in 1992, few realized he’d eventually transform the small Canadian firm into an international oilfield services provider.

He jumped at the chance to buy Cougar in 2005 and become its president. In 2011, he became the CEO of Cougar Drilling Solutions. He sold the company to international investors in 2019. Today, Blaine spends his time on family, community projects, startups, and angel investing.

Irene Mertz LaBonte

The daughter of Hungarian refugees, Irene was raised in Redwater, Alberta, where she grew up on the family farm. Irene graduated from NAIT as registered dental assistant. She worked in public health helping individuals access and understand the importance of oral health.

In 2010, Irene became the Director of Community Engagement at Cougar Drilling Solutions, a global provider of services to the oil and gas industry. Irene’s background has given her a unique perspective on sustainable practices and community engagement. Irene created opportunities for Cougar to partner with educational institutions at all levels, establishing school meal programs and supporting mental health initiatives.

Today, Irene continues to be actively involved in the community and committed to making a positive impact in the lives of those around her.

2022 recipient - Manjit Minhas

Manjit Minhas is a well-known Canadian entrepreneur, television personality, and venture capitalist. As the co-owner of Minhas Breweries & Distillery, she has made an incredible impact in the Canadian business world and shared her savvy on the long-running CBC program Dragon’s Den. Manjit is the winner of dozens of business industry awards, including Canada’s Top 40 Under 40, Top 100 Women Entrepreneurs in Canada, and a Canadian Business Icon Award.

NorQuest is pleased to recognize Manjit for her contributions in blazing a path for women and people of colour entering into the field of business. Her dedication to mentorship, philanthropy, and corporate social and environmental responsibility continues to set the bar for businesses and entrepreneurs at home and around the world.

2022 recipient - Austin and Catherine Mardon

Drs. Austin and Catherine Mardon have made lifelong contributions to the betterment of others, particularly to those suffering from mental illness. Together they have spent more than 20 years advocating for mental health, publishing hundreds of articles, and bringing mental health issues out of the shadows and into conversation.

In the spirit of the NorQuest values of inclusion, the Mardons’ goal is to establish a network of endowed student bursaries at NorQuest College and support students suffering from mental health disorders.

2022 recipient - Dr. Norma Dunning

Dr. Norma Dunning has led a life with many titles: scholar, teacher, mother, storyteller, grandmother, researcher. She is an Inuk writer whose work has received many Canadian awards, including the Governor General's literary award for Tainna (the unseen ones), a collection of short stories.

In addition to her now nationally recognized publications, Dr. Dunning's curriculum development and research work has directly contributed to the advancement of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples at NorQuest College. She embodies our values in all that she does: as a writer, an instructor, a researcher, and a community member. Everyone has a story and Dr. Dunning's work shows us how those stories matter.

2021 recipient - Samra Zafar

Samra Zafar is an award-winning internationally renowned speaker, best-selling author, and educator for equity, mental health, and human rights. She has been recognized among the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada, Top 25 Most Inspirational Women in Canada, and Top 25 Canadian Immigrants.

Her book, A Good Wife: Escaping The Life I Never Chose, based on her journey of escaping an abusive child marriage to pursue her education and shed light on gender-based oppression, is a national bestseller, was one of CBC's Best Books of 2019 and is being adapted to a premium TV series.

NorQuest College is especially appreciative of the work Samra has done with women who have come out of abuse and oppression, to help them build a life of independence and dignity.

2021 recipient - Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn is the Executive Director of Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE), an organization dedicated to building hope, respect, and transformation for all those impacted by sexual exploitation and sex trafficking in Edmonton and surrounding areas.

Kate is an advocate and community builder who collaborates to build hope, decrease social inequities, foster compassion, and build kindness.

NorQuest College recognizes and supports Kate’s meaningful contributions, accomplishments, and years of advocating for those who have experienced sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.

2019 recipient - Audrey Poitras

Audrey Poitras is known and respected for taking a compassionate, accountable, and responsible approach to social leadership activities. She is also a proven advocate for gender and race equality, and staunch promotor of the value of education — all aligning with the vision and values of NorQuest College.

Audrey has a long list of achievements. As president of the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) since 2006, she leads negotiations on behalf of MNA with the national and Alberta governments to increase recognition of Métis people’s rights to harvest and self-govern. She also helped establish Rupertsland Institute - Métis Centre of Excellence in partnership with the University of Alberta, which represents the education, training, and research arm of the MNA.

2019 recipient - Zarqa Nawaz

Zarqa Nawaz has used her talents as comedy writer, journalist, broadcaster, and filmmaker to help create understanding between diverse groups of people. This compelling drive has earned her a NorQuest College Honorary Diploma in Community Services Leadership.

Zarqa is best known as the creator of the world’s first sitcom about a Muslim community living in the west, Little Mosque on the Prairie, which premiered to record ratings on the CBC in 2007. She was honoured in that same year with a Gemini Award. She also made the documentary Me and the Mosque, and published a comedic memoir, Laughing All the Way to the Mosque, which was shortlisted for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour in 2015.

2019 recipient - Salma Lakhani

Salma Lakhani is a longtime community philanthropist with a passion for education, health care, and human rights. She believes strongly in providing opportunities to those who are facing challenges in life — a mindset that has guided her service to community and earned her a NorQuest College

Honorary Diploma in Community Services Leadership. Salma embodies NorQuest’s goals of providing learners with not only an education, but the confidence to thrive in life. Leading by example, she was one of the first mentors in the college’s Youth in Transition mentorship program (now called Upgrading for ESL Youth program), providing valuable guidance for students who needed a helping hand.

2018 recipient - Hayley Wickenheiser

Wickenheiser has worked tirelessly as a mentor with sports organizations across Canada. And while hockey has struggled with diversity, she is a leading voice in efforts to bring our game’s immense benefits to non-hockey countries. In addition, she created the Canadian Tire Wickenheiser World Female Hockey Festival, providing thousands of females from around the world access not just to hockey, but to exceptional educational sessions.

Fitting for a person receiving this honour, education is top of mind for Wickenheiser. She earned a master’s degree at 37 and will soon embark on an educational journey in medicine. As a lifelong learner, a philanthropist, and a positive role model to millions, NorQuest believes she truly embodies the values and mission of the college.

2017 recipient - Marianne Ryan

Marianne Ryan is a pioneer in her own right. A woman of conviction, her career as a police officer and later the highest ranking RCMP officer in Alberta, is an inspirational tale of bucking the trend of gender inequality. Her perseverance to succeed, especially in a traditionally male dominated field, is an example to NorQuest learners where 64 per cent are female. Marianne’s outstanding success as a compassionate leader and dedication to community through meaningful service reflects the vision and outcomes NorQuest College works towards achieving.

2017 recipient - Alex Janvier

Alex Janvier is an incredible artist and human being. He has contributed enormously to the Alberta art community and beyond, teaching at various colleges and schools, and participating in environmental and First Nations issues. He is a powerful example of upholding NorQuest’s values of leadership, innovation, and lifelong learning. Among his many honours, Alex is a member of the Alberta Order of Excellence and the Order of Canada. He is also a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, Governor General Award in Visuals and Media Arts, Centennial Medal for outstanding service to the people and province of Alberta, and Cold Lake First Nations Lifetime Achievement Award.

2016 Honorary Diploma recipient - Patrick LaForge

NorQuest College conferred its eighth honorary diploma to Edmonton entrepreneur and business strategist Patrick LaForge in 2016. Patrick has been actively involved with NorQuest through his role on Maximizing Opportunities – The NorQuest Campaign Cabinet, Workforce Advisory Council, and the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation Hospitality Institute. His dedication and contribution to the college is unyielding. His tireless efforts continue to be a driving force for community and business initiatives that will help NorQuest deliver workforce relevant programming.

2015 recipient - Reza and Sylvia Nasseri

The NorQuest vision is to foster a vibrant, inclusive, and diverse learning environment that transforms lives and strengthens communities.

In 2015, the college bestowed its honorary diploma on a pair of recipients who are the embodiment of that vision. The actions of Reza and Sylvia Nasseri have had a tremendous impact on cultural understanding and better workplace practices for the community at large.

2014 recipient - Wendy Kinsella

NorQuest College conferred its fifth Honorary Diploma to former chair of the NorQuest College Board of Governors (2004-2010). City of Edmonton councillor, community advocate, and philanthropist Wendy Kinsella at the Winspear Centre on May 22, 2014.

2014 recipient - Dr. Herb Belcourt

NorQuest College conferred its fourth Honorary Diploma to Dr. Herb Belcourt, successful Edmonton businessman of Métis descent, community builder, and long-time college supporter at the Winspear Centre on May 22, 2014.

2013 recipient - The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean

NorQuest College conferred its third Honorary Diploma to The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, 27th Governor General and Commander in Chief of Canada from 2005 to 2010 at a special ceremony on October 24, 2013.

2013 Honorary Diploma recipient - Steven LePoole

NorQuest College conferred its second Honorary Diploma to retired CEO of Diversity Technologies Corp., former member of the NorQuest College Board of Governors and current member of the college's Youth in Transition mentorship program, Steven LePoole at the Winspear Centre on May 9, 2013.

2012 recipient - Judge Bhatia

NorQuest College conferred its first Honorary Diploma to long-time college supporter Judge Gurcharan Singh Bhatia. The conferral took place during NorQuest’s convocation ceremony at the Winspear Centre on May 10, 2012.