Convocation 2007 – Address by Graduate, Part 1 of 3

During each of the three days of convocation, one graduate addressed their fellow students and convocation guests, sharing their thoughts about graduation and the journey that brought them there.

On Thursday, June 7, the graduate address was given by Sheila Jane Hudson, of Spruce Grove, Alberta, who received her Bachelor of Arts degree with great distinction.

The Voice thanks Sheila for sharing the text of her address, which is printed below.

Madam Chairman, Mr. President, Distinguished Guests, Members of the Platform Party, Fellow Graduates, Family and Friends,

Good afternoon!

My husband and I love to get away from home with our children. We have gone on many camping trips, ski weekends, and visits to distant grandparents, but extended holidays to exotic locations have never seemed to pan out for us–at least not until this past January. In January we were faced with the shocking realization that our oldest child was fast approaching his 18th birthday and would soon be setting out to conquer the world. As my husband and I contemplated our son’s impending independence, we realized that the window of opportunity for a major family vacation was fast closing.

And so, with a sense of some urgency, we set out to organize the elusive holiday–something the family would remember with fondness for years to come. The first order of business was to determine when we would go. First we tried for summer holidays; the teenagers, however, were afraid that a long holiday would jeopardize their employment opportunities, so that idea was discarded. We thought about spring break; but my husband couldn’t leave work then. Next we tried for the Family Day weekend; it was tied up with a basketball tournament. It quickly became evident that semester break was our only real option?but it was only three weeks away! In a whirlwind of planning and activity we threw together a trip to Southern California. On January 24 we loaded our stuff and ourselves (including two adults, a great big football player, a long tall basketball player, and an active 10-year-old) into our little 5-passenger Nissan Pathfinder and set out for a very . . . long . . . drive.

Why the travelogue, you may wonder. Well, the great honour of addressing you today has prompted me to reflect on my time as a student at Athabasca University, and I have discovered some distinct parallels between my trip to California and my time as a student at this great institution.

First, both ventures started out because windows of opportunity seemed to be closing. I’ve already explained how my holiday window seemed to be closing. My post-secondary education window started to slide shut when my pursuits at another institution were temporarily put on hold while I took a job so that my husband could finish his schooling. Temporary seemed to become permanent when our first bundle of joy made his debut. I could not imagine giving up my post-secondary education, but financial and family demands made traditional full-time study on campus infeasible. The school window seemed to be closing and I was on the wrong side of it. Then I learned about Athabasca University. I’m sure I speak for many graduates today when I say that I am grateful I was able to embark on a path that allowed me to continue my university studies when all other options made post-secondary schooling seem impossible.

The second parallel involves my means of arriving at my destination. Both journeys required that I consider the resources at my disposal, the scenery I wanted to take in en route and the time frame within which I had to make it all happen. As graduates, we’ve each chosen a destination and plodded along until we got here. Some of us have had the luxury of flying; some of us feel like we’ve hitchhiked through the Mojave Desert. There have been detours, transfers, and layovers, but all of us have arrived.

Neither journey was without incident. In spite of my most conscientious effort to have my vehicle in order before I left the driveway I still ran into some car troubles on vacation; a belt broke just this side of the U.S. border, my radiator overheated in the midst of Las Vegas, and my muffler began to make rude noises somewhere around Tijuana. In spite of my diligent planning and dedication to my studies, my computer broke down on the wrong side of completing Computer Sciences 210, I went into labour in the midst of Psychology 388, and life made many rude noises in the midst of everything else. Many thanks are owed to tutors and other Athabasca University staff who served as fine mechanics when we, as students, needed a tune-up, a jerry can of gas, a boost, or a major overhaul.

Each journey required the travellers to find balance. As my family travelled I-15, we had to find a balance between making good time on the road and having a good time on the road. We anticipated that at some point in our 70-some hour drive there might be a bit of tension among our back-seat passengers. Anyone who has a child or has been a child will probably be familiar with some of the complaints we anticipated: ?He looked at me! His leg is on my side of the seat! Someone sat on my glasses!?

But because we anticipated such possibilities we made plans so that we could enjoy the journey as well as the destination. We brought books on tape, munchies for the car, and games for the road. And once in a while we just pulled over and took a break. Similarly, every graduating student here has developed some skill in finding balance between extracurricular demands and the demands of scholarship. A bit of school-related tension was inevitable, but a bit of planning allowed us to minimize that stress. Often the plan included peanut butter sandwiches for supper, overnight research sessions, and chocolate, lots and lots of chocolate. And once in a while we just had to pause and take a break. However, I hope my fellow graduates can join me in saying that while I’m happy to finally be on this end of the journey, I have certainly enjoyed the ride.

Finally, while California is a lovely place to visit, I could not have enjoyed it as much as I did without my travelling companions. Seriously, what would Disneyland be without my 10-year-old? My family learned together, laughed together, navigated for one another, and watched out for each other. Those same companions have been with me on my academic journey. I’m sure there were times on both trips when they wanted to get out of the car, but I’m so glad they stayed along for the ride. I could never have gotten here without them.

On behalf of my fellow graduates, thanks to the partners, parents, children, friends, and mentors who cheered us on and supported us. We look forward to enjoying the next adventure with you by our sides and in our hearts.

Thank you.