The University of Winnipeg held a special graduation ceremony Friday for four Haitian students who survived a devastating earthquake.

The students were part of a group of five who were offered all-expense-paid spots at the university after their school was destroyed in 2010’s 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti.

"What the university did is what any university should do, I think, but the real story is them," said Neil Besner, the vice president of the U of W.

Several of the students survived being buried in rubble by the quake, and spent the last three years studying at the university. They all lost many of their friends, family and professors in the quake.


"Two years ago we came here broken, full of pain and sorrow, rage, anger," said Jean Pervil.

In the past few years in Winnipeg, though, Pervil said that has changed.

"It’s a love story. A love story between the five students – we were in a very bad situation – with the University of Winnipeg and the Canadian people," said Pervil.

Pervil and three others were awarded degrees from the U of W on Friday, in what turned out to be a highly emotional ceremony.

Jaquet Duval told the crowd at the convocation the experience had a major impact on his life.

"By receiving my degree today, I feel like the University of Winnipeg is saying to me, "Go ahead Jaquet. We believe in you, you can reach your dreams,’" he said.

Jean Pervil drew large applause when he told the crowd, "If you can give food, a place to stay, the gift of education, psychological support, and your time, that is love," said Pervil. "This is what we have received from this university and from all of the Canadian people."

The four graduates offered emotional thanks to the university and the city, and Samy Archille made a promise to the crowd.

"I give you my full guarantee that the knowledge I have acquired here will continue to positive change in my community and my country," said Archille. "When you get something, you need to give back."

All, including the fifth student who will graduate in the spring, said they plan to return to the Caribbean country to help.