Wayne Benedict: The Harried Student

Three weeks ago I wrote an article about my departure from the railway industry entitled “Working for the Railway” (http://www.ausu.org/voice/search/searchdisplay.php?ART=1818). It ended with the statement that: “I hereby declare myself to be a fulltime Athabasca University student.” This week I am forced to recant my statement and once again declare myself to be a part-time AU student. My wife and I had sold our house and were in the midst of packing to move into a rental property in Prince George so that we could afford to live on her wages alone while I studied. Our plans changed suddenly on August 22, 2003 when I received a phone call that would radically change our family’s lives forever.

Last fall, when I was consulting with a lawyer that I had hired for advice regarding a labour arbitration award, he asked who had written the Union submission. When I told him that I had, he told me that he thought it was “very sophisticated.” I was understandably honoured and thanked him very much. Then he asked me if I had ever thought about law school. I laughed and said no and that I didn’t even have an undergraduate degree, which was a prerequisite for law school. “Besides” I said, “I’m too old for that now.” He told me that mature students could sometimes get into law school without an undergraduate degree and that I should think about it. Some weeks later, we again talked about law school in his office and I began to seriously think it over.

I went onto the Internet and began to research the possibility that I might actually be able to become a lawyer and while I never really thought it to be a realistic option at this point in my life, I found that mature students without undergraduate degrees could indeed be accepted into law school. Schools take into account both Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores and GPAs of prospective students; and mature applicants must also provide two letters of recommendation in support of their selection, and compete against other discretionary applicants. I quickly prepared three applications and sent them off to UBC, UVic and the University of Saskatchewan. I wrote my LSAT on February 8, 2003 at the University of Northern BC and had my AU transcripts sent to each university.

I didn’t really expect to get into law this year but I thought it would be an interesting experience to go through the application procedure and I planned on reapplying next year after completing my degree at AU. Early in the summer I received a letter from UVic thanking me for my application but stating that I was not accepted. I was neither surprised nor disappointed. A few weeks later UBC sent me a similar letter. Finally the response came from the University of Saskatchewan. It stated that I was neither accepted, nor rejected, but that I had been placed on a deferred list of applicants that would be referred to if seats opened up. It asked whether I would like to remain on the list and stated that notification of acceptance, if it ever came, might be as late as the first week of classes. I responded that I would like to remain on the list and then went on with my life, laying my plans for fulltime studies through AU.

At 14:00, August 22, 2003 I was sitting at my office desk making arrangements for our family move when the phone rang. It was a member of the U of Saskatchewan College of Law selection committee offering me a seat in the College. I practically fell off my chair. She said: “You don’t have to decide right now.” My response was “Yes, yes, yes.”

From that moment on life has been a marathon of exhaustion. I phoned my wife Linda at her work and told her the news. She told me later that she began to shake and could hardly hold the phone. She gave her notice that day. On Monday, August 25, 2003 my friends and I, along with some hired help, loaded most of our belongings into a 5 ton truck and rental trailer. My good friend Dave Veniot (now the president of CAW Local 110), my father (driving his truck and pulling the trailer), and I set out that afternoon for Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. After hauling furniture for 9 hours, we drove well into the night and finally stopped at Hinton Alberta for a 6 hour sleep. While we were driving, Linda was researching the Internet and phoning Saskatoon to try to arrange a rental property there in which our family could take up residence. We were in communication via my cellular phone as I crossed BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. She found a place for us sight-unseen. On Tuesday we drove the rest of the way and unloaded until midnight. On Wednesday we unloaded the rest of the stuff and I made a thousand phone calls to arrange utility services. At 15:30 we set out for BC and drove until midnight, stopping over in Edson AB. Thursday morning we set out at 07:00 and arrived that evening in Prince George.

Incredibly, Linda continued to work her job Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. All day Friday, the kids and I ran around Prince George tying-up loose ends. That afternoon, I was back into loading our goods into the trailer, Dad’s truck, Linda’s van and my VW Golf. At midnight everything was finally loaded (except for those things that wouldn’t fit or were forgotten). Saturday at 08:00 our convoy set out for Saskatchewan”?the second time in a week for Dad and me. We drove for nearly ten hours and stayed over at Vegreville AB. I am writing this article on my laptop computer in a Motel room in that town. It is Sunday morning and we will be leaving right after breakfast on the remaining leg of our journey.

By the time you are reading this article I will already have begun my classes”?my first day is September 2, 2003. I have only today and tomorrow to get to Saskatoon, unload our things, and prepare for law school. Linda has to obtain work and our children must be registered in a new French Immersion school (which we will have to find). The only time in my life that I can recall being as mentally, emotionally, and physically tired was when I fought forest fires for six weeks straight without a day off in 1986. Even so, I would crawl naked over broken glass for this opportunity, so these trials are but a bump in the road.

To correct my statement from the previous article: I hereby declare myself to be a fulltime student of the University of Saskatchewan College of Law and a part-time student of Athabasca University.

Wayne E. Benedict has a varied career history and strong links to the Canadian labour movement. He is working toward his Bachelor of Human Resources and Labour Relations at Athabasca University. For a more detailed writer bio, see The Voice writers’ feature page, at: http://www.ausu.org/voice/authors/authorfull.php?ID=7. If you would like to send article-feedback to Wayne, he can be reached at wayneben@telus.net.