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Campus Women's Centre honours alumnus, student

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Wisdom, resilience and compassion were celebrated at a noon-hour awards ceremony which recognized two women who embody those characteristics.

The University of Calgary Women's Resource Centre presented Carol Oliver with the 2009 Distinguished Alumna Award and Adina Edwards with the 2009 Distinguished Student Award on Fri., Oct. 23.

"There's a number of different awards ceremonies that exist on campus for alumni and students, but nothing specifically honouring and recognizing the achievement of women," said WRC executive director Stephanie Garrett.

The third-annual presentation of the awards took place in the North Courtyard of MacEwan Student's Centre.

Garrett described both award recipients as "women who are helping women who are in very marginalized positions in our society."

Speaking on behalf of the U of C at the ceremony, chancellor Joanne Cuthbertson said both women deserve the awards.

Oliver, who completed a graduate degree in communications studies at the U of C in 1994, currently works as the executive director of the Distress Centre Calgary.

Oliver has previously worked for the Calgary Women's Emergency Shelter and the United Way of Calgary and Area, providing leadership in women's issues, gender equality, community building and organizational change and development in her various positions.

"I am honoured, I am humbled, but mostly I am very happy to be the recipient of the 2009 Distinguished Alumna Award," Oliver said as she accepted her award.

The Canadian Women's Foundation nominated Oliver, a co-chair of the organization, for the award.

In front of an audience of about 75, Oliver spoke of wisdom, resilience and compassion as "the very ingredients of good leadership."

She offered young women in the audience sage advice.

"Find your passion, be persistent, surround yourself with the best people in the world, be prepared to let go and change direction and, no matter what lane you end up on, step up and do your best without apology," Oliver said.

Edwards, the recipient of the Distinguished Student Award, is enrolled in the master of fine arts program at the U of C.

Edwards only completed Grade 7 before returning to school at the age of 26 and completing a Bachelors degree in Visual Arts at the Emily Carr Institute in Vancouver.

"In terms of resiliency, she is amazing," said Garrett of the young woman.

Following her undergraduate studies, Edwards worked full-time for four years as a supervisor at a transitional housing project for women actively using drugs and working in the sex-trade industry.

She returned to school to complete a master's degree in fine arts and remains committed to social justice concerns for women in the sex trade through fine arts and active involvement in social projects.

A male peer who was in class with Edwards and was moved by her work nominated her for the award.

When accepting the award, Edwards recalled a coffee cup quote that read "there's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."

"An essential part of my life is to help others in my community, no matter what their situation is," said Edwards.

She spoke of society being a long way away from the point where everyone is treated equally and entitled to the same things -- no matter what their situation is.

The awards ceremony also featured a performance by Sarah Clarke, a 15-year-old singer-songwriter, and the presentation of the 2009 Sheila O'Brien Award for Excellence in Women's Leadership.

The award went to Vicky Mah, who was selected by her WRC volunteer peers for her outstanding contributions to the centre.

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