Convocation 2003: Address by the Graduate

Ramona DeRose was chosen to give this year’s Address by the Graduate. She has been kind enough to share her address with the Voice readers, and all those grads who were unable to attend this year’s convocation.

Mr. Chairman
Mr. President
Elected Officials
Distinguished Guests
Members of the Platform Party
Ladies and Gentlemen

Today we celebrate the achievements of the graduating class of 2003. This day is an achievement not only for the graduates, but also for the faculty and staff of Athabasca University, and for the friends and family who supported us, and who encouraged us to put our studies ahead of their needs.

For many of us, this is the first time we’ve connected with other students, other than in the dreaded exam rooms, and the first time we’ve met our tutors face-to-face. Distance learning can at times be an isolating experience. You are in a classroom of one, responsible for setting your own deadlines, and ever tempted by the proximity of distractions. We have had to be disciplined, and committed to our own learning. Our education has taken place not in a lecture hall, but on the telephone and over the Internet. At times, the distance learner feels like the only student to agonize over a particularly difficult concept, the only one overwhelmed with term papers, projects, and telephone quizzes. I am comforted to see just how many students have shared those experiences with me. I admit I traveled to convocation not only to receive my degree, but to confirm that Athabasca University actually exists!

As challenging as distance learning can be, without the programs offered by Athabasca, it is doubtful whether many of us would be receiving our parchments at all. The Open University Concept that Athabasca has pioneered makes education available to all, irrespective of distance or prior academic qualifications. Breaking down barriers of time and space, Athabasca allows students from around the world to fit education into their lives, and pace their studies according to their own timetables. I am so proud to be graduating from an institution that stands for accessible learning and equal educational opportunities for all students.

Distance learning is made possible through technology, but it is made enriching through the efforts of the people at the other end of the telephone line. The faculty and staff of Athabasca deserve our special recognition today. These fine instructors made the material come to life, without benefit of personal interaction, or the reward of watching a student grasp a new concept. They make themselves available year-round, and the first of the month is always the first day of classes for them, one student at a time. On behalf of the graduating class, I thank you for your diligence, your patience, your insights, and your commitment to our learning.

I must also recognize the sacrifices of the people who walked beside us on our journey. To those of you who allowed us to pursue our goals, who encouraged us to study, who helped us make the time in our busy lives to learn, thank you. Before I made the decision to return to school, I was relating to a friend all the reasons why I shouldn’t pursue my degree. My best argument went something like “But I’ll be forty years old by the time I’m finished!” My argument was defeated when my friend replied, “and how old will you be if you don’t get your degree?” I registered the very next day.

Although the graduates are the ones being honored, we recognize that without our friends and family behind us and beside us, we would not be here today. Thank you for the sacrifices you have made so lovingly on our behalf. As my son remarked when I had written my last exam; “Hurray – we’re finished!”

Our journeys were certainly made easier by the support we received. But let us also recognize that the students on this stage wholly committed themselves to learning, and to seeing the challenge through to the end. Although we are a diverse student body, separated by distance, we are connected by the desire to learn and to become more than what we were before.

I am reminded of a day last fall when, deeply immersed in the agonies of Economics 248, my little boy approached me. He stood for a moment, contemplating my pile of books, and the look of pure misery on my face. He said, “Mommy, why do you have to study?” Anticipating a plea for the playground, I replied, “because I have lots of work to do”. He shook his head and said “No, Mommy. I mean, why do you want to do school? Mommies know everything.” Now, I admit I had no desire to disabuse him of this notion. Here was the one person on the planet who actually thought I was all-knowing. In just a few years he would be convinced I knew nothing at all. But the innocence of his question demanded more than just a wise nod. “Well”, I said, “you know how you keep trying to score a goal in soccer? You work so hard, and you practice, and even though you haven’t scored yet, you keep trying? Why do you do that?” He thought for a moment, and said “because I wanna get better”. I nodded. “Me too”. Our desire to “get better”, to be become more, know more, do more, has seen us through the challenges of our programs.

More than a hundred years ago, Robert Louis Stevenson said “to become what we are capable of becoming is the only end in life.” And although we are celebrating the end of our days as undergraduates, we must recognize that the commitment to learning, and the desire to become what we are capable of becoming is our true achievement. For it is in the striving that we learn, and in the struggle for knowledge that we reveal our true potential.

To my fellow graduates: congratulations. May the courage and perseverance you’ve shown to get here today see you through the challenges ahead, and may you continue to achieve your dreams. May you become all you are capable of becoming.

Thank you.

Thank you to Ramona for allowing us to print her Address by the Graduate