Convocation 2008 – Address by Graduate

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 Friday, June 13, the graduate address was given by Kathryn Gordon, of Calgary, Alberta, who received her Master of Health Studies degree.

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

Madam Chairman, Mr. President, distinguished guests, members of the platform party, graduates, and ladies and gentlemen,

It is indeed an honour to be asked to deliver the graduate address this afternoon. I don’t know whether or not it is true, but I have often heard that public speaking is the number one fear of most people.

It’s almost no comfort to me to know that I’m part of the statistically normal crowd in that respect.

My immediate reaction to this invitation was to decline the honour. My children reminded me of my frequent preaching on the virtues of risk-taking, and I felt that I had to walk the talk.

As I stand before you today, it strikes me that what we have accomplished is something that would not have been thought possible when I first started nursing over 20 years ago. Many of us have not personally met each other, yet together we may have developed projects, written papers, engaged in debates, produced teaching and learning plans, and participated in research and evaluation activities. In the process, we have shared of ourselves, both personally and professionally.

In this way we have contributed to each other’s successes. Our accomplishments are the direct result of the quality collaborative learning atmosphere fostered by Athabasca University. The true value of education is revealed in this type of approach.

It has been said that education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten. I suspect that most of us will forget many of the facts that we’ve learned over the time we’ve been students of Athabasca University.

I’m certain, however, that we will not forget the values we have integrated over the course of our studies. The values I’m referring to include: an openness to new ideas, the willingness to submit our own ideas and beliefs to critical reflection, and a belief in the power of collaborative learning.

I would like to take a few minutes to reflect on this unique institution and our experience of it.

Athabasca University was created in 1970 in response to rapid increases in university enrolment. Initially a traditional university institution, it faced challenges not many years later when the growth in university enrolments tapered off.

A pilot project was initiated to study new teaching and learning strategies that would enable students to have continued access to higher level learning without leaving their homes. The result was a learning centre that specialized in the delivery of distance education courses and programs.

Later, Athabasca University’s focus on Internet-based distance education was innovative and trend-setting. It is an approach which many other universities now emulate.

Additionally, the value Athabasca University places on the provision of quality learning opportunities opens students to new possibilities . . . a necessary first step in addressing the complex challenges in our world today. Look around you. These graduates are evidence of the success of this university and its visionary thinking.

Athabasca University meets the increasing demands for higher education in a time when there are limited available seats in traditional education settings. It provides meaningful and relevant opportunities for growing numbers of professionals returning to university to obtain advanced academic courses and degrees.

It responds to, and supports, the technologically savvy population, as well as nurturing those among us who are still trying to catch up to the latest challenges of the information age.

In my case, mastering the double mouse click, alone, caused considerable stress and no small amount of conflict in my home. My kids were shocked at how little I knew about using the computer, and how fragile my confidence was each time I faced the screen. I’m certain that there are still fragments of my early assignments floating somewhere in the virtual universe as a result of random key strikes.

The Class of 2008 is a diverse group of individuals. We come from different countries and cultures, different backgrounds, different cities and towns, with different needs, challenges, desires, and goals. We have unique stories with respect to what brought us to Athabasca University at this particular time in our lives.

According to statistics, we are typically slightly older than the average university student. We are likely to be juggling the demands of family and career, with all that entails. Whatever our personal circumstances, we decided that Athabasca University offered us an opportunity to pursue our educational ambitions. Our presence here today, proves that our decision was a wise one.

Athabasca University is a demonstrated leader in breaking down the barriers of access to higher education. Not many years ago, few anticipated the type of virtual education which this institution now offers so successfully. Athabasca University transformed the way our education was delivered, and in doing so, facilitated a degree of collaborative learning that is rare in our competitive society.

For us graduates, this celebration marks the end of a significant phase in our lives. Speaking for myself, I know that I will truly miss the contact with others in my program, and the opportunity to have open conversations about issues of concern within my profession. These dialogues were characterized by the sharing of experiences, insights, lessons learned, mistakes made, suggested resources, and most of all, a spirit of generosity.

Our futures hold unknowns which we cannot foresee. Learning can come in unexpected ways from unexpected people. Be open to the possibility of new learning as you progress in your careers, and be generous in sharing your insights, experiences, and knowledge with those you come in contact with.

Who knows what is possible? The collaborative relationships developed over our time together may inspire consideration of a dedicated venue for ongoing dialogue.

A graduate alumni association might assist individuals to explore their ideas further, to share learning and resources with a professional group committed to life-long learning. Community or online mentoring could offer support and learning for experienced professionals entering a new role or stage of their career.

We have collectively shared in each other’s successes and challenges. We have developed important learning skills for ourselves, and supported the development of those skills in others. We have demonstrated the will and determination to succeed, and the ability and creativity to make a difference.

As graduates of Athabasca University I suggest that this is our collective call to action: To cooperatively and collaboratively work to meet the needs of society in our personal and professional lives and to assist in the necessary problem-solving processes to effectively address the challenges faced by today’s society.

In closing I would like to extend my warmest congratulations to the graduates of 2008. We have completed this portion of our educational journey. Our time, effort, sacrifices, and commitment to higher-level education have resulted in the attainment of this goal.

On behalf of the graduates, I would like to thank all of the people who supported us in this endeavour, particularly the faculty and staff of Athabasca University, for setting high standards and demanding the best from us, and for providing the many supports, technical and otherwise, that allowed us to do our best.

Of course, I also want to thank our families and friends, for supporting us through all the highs and lows of this experience. Without their love, encouragement and support, achieving this milestone would have been much more difficult. Thank you all so very much!

Now please join me in congratulating the Class of 2008!

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