This is the first of a special three-part Voice report on Athabasca University’s 2008 Convocation, which took place June 12, 13, and 14. The Voice offers its warmest congratulations to all this year’s graduates!
As visitors approach the Athabasca University campus, one of the first things they see is the long, curving driveway that winds through the beautiful, natural setting.
In many ways, It’s a fitting introduction?not only to the campus, but also to the experience of earning a degree at AU. Much like the driveway that twists and turns as it climbs, the path of adult distance learners can seem like a long, uphill journey.
In some places, the vista opens wide and gives a view of green hills rolling gently into the trees. In others, the foliage is thick, providing no hint of what lies ahead. Curves take you right, then left, then right again, much like the twists and turns of juggling coursework, jobs, and family at the same time.
But perhaps the most important thing these two elements have in common is their direction: in spite of the winding path, both continue a steady upward climb. And it was this determined progress toward the top that was visible in such abundance as AU graduands, friends, and families gathered to celebrate Convocation 2008.
Just as the AU driveway eventually opens to reveal the university’s main building nestled on level, landscaped ground, the success and accomplishment of earning an AU degree clearly made the journey well worth taking, and was reflected in the proud faces of the graduands as they prepared to make their way to the stage.
Well before the first visitors arrived, the campus was a flurry of activity. Staff and volunteers waited in the main foyer, ready to greet the graduands with name tags and instructions, and a delicious breakfast was ready and waiting for the hungry guests.
The large red-and-white striped tent quickly began to fill, and graduands hurried off to don their black gowns, which would soon be adorned with their hard-earned hoods, each colour designating the program of the new graduates.
Cameras flashed as the procession made its way up the long red carpet and onto the stage, and the ceremony was set to begin.
A graduand in the Bachelor of Professional Arts program, Genieve Simpson, sang O Canada, then Joy Romero, Chair of AU’s Governing Council, welcomed the crowd.
In her address, she noted one of the things that makes AU convocation unique: unlike many other universities, AU’s graduands are on the stage, ?front and centre,? a reminder of the fact that graduation day really is all about them.
A warm welcome was also extended by Colleen Powell, the mayor of Athabasca, as well as Charlie Ashbey, reeve of the County of Athabasca. The final greeting of the morning came from AU President Frits Pannekoek, who offered some interesting (and inspiring) facts for his listeners.
He noted that the 2008 AU graduands are joining more than 12,000 alumni who chose AU to earn their degrees. And while many AU students and alumni may be non-traditional learners, Dr. Pannekoek reaffirmed one of the core tenets of their education: that quality is not defined by entry grades, but by the contribution that AU alumni make to society.
And for those who may be considering pursuing their education as adult distance learners, these facts may be of interest: The average age of an AU undergrad student is 29 years, while the average age of graduate students is 40. And 74 per cent of AU grads are the first in their families to earn a degree, proving that, as Dr. Pannekoek noted, ?dreams might have been postponed, but must never be forgotten.?
And then it was time for the moment that the graduands had been working toward for so long?the conferring of degrees. Dr. Margaret Haughey, AU’s Vice-President (Academic), read the following petition:
?Madam Chair, Mr. President, and ladies and gentlemen of the Governing Council, I present to you the petition that these graduands, having fulfilled all of the requirements of the statutes of Athabasca University, may, with your permission, be admitted to the degrees to which they are entitled.?
As Chair, Joy Romero declared the petition granted, and, in unison, the graduands replied to the pledge put forth by Dr. Pannekoek.
The degrees awarded on the first day of convocation included Master of Distance Education, Master of Arts ? Integrated Studies, Master of Counselling, Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of General Studies (Applied Studies), Bachelor of General Studies (Arts and Science), and Bachelor of Professional Arts.
As well, three other honours were presented.
The Governor General’s Gold Medal was awarded to Norman Taylor, a graduate of AU’s Master of Distance Education program; Professor Patricia Anne Monture received an Honorary Doctor of Laws; and the Governor General’s Silver Medal was awarded to Collette Jackson, who graduated from the Bachelor of Arts program with great distinction.
A vibrant speaker, Professor Monture expressed the many struggles along the journey to becoming a respected academic in the areas of Indigenous studies, women’s studies, law, and sociology. However, she noted that it was those very struggles that ?gave her the strength of spirit to carry on during tough times.? She also asked the AU grads to reflect on the ways they have contributed to their university, and stressed the importance of pursuing their dreams.
Another tradition of AU’s convocation is the address on each day by one of the grads, and the first address of 2008 was given by Lorna Weisbrod, a graduate of the Master of Arts ? Integrated Studies program.
Along with the speakers who addressed the graduands and guests, one of the highlights of AU’s convocation is the brief grad bios. As each graduand comes forward to receive their hood and degree, their bio is read to the audience, and it is these insights that make the joys and struggles of their journeys truly come to life.
Their stories embody AU’s spirit of making education available to a diverse group of learners, and the grads hail from many walks of life. They are assistant principals, ESL teachers, medical researchers in family medicine, recently retired from the Canadian Forces, and an Inspector with Edmonton Police Services. Some work as youth and family counsellors, as cancer researchers, and as Canada Revenue auditors. They are competitive bowlers and one is a member of the national women’s volleyball team. They represent military spouses and triathlon competitors, and their dreams are as diverse as their backgrounds.
Some are looking forward to having evenings and weekends back, while at least one plans on becoming a family lawyer and another is looking forward to going to explore New Zealand.
Still others offered their own unique advice for making it through a degree program: chocolate can be a wonderful motivator, and you should never, ever kick your computer.
Whatever their story, and wherever their goals may take them, The Voice congratulates the graduates of 2008.
Watch for part two of Convocation 2008 coverage next week!