Convocation 2008 – Address by Graduate, June 12

On Thursday, June 12, the graduate address was given by Lorna Weisbrod, of Lumsden, Saskatchewan, who received her Master of Arts?Integrated Studies degree.

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

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

I am both privileged and honoured today to stand before you to deliver the graduate address for the Athabasca University 2008 Convocation.

When Mr. D?Arcy phoned me a short while ago, I was expecting a somewhat different conversation given that I had just left a voice mail at the university the day before.

Not initially believing what Mr. D?Arcy was asking me, I responded with ?You’re going to have to tell me that again from the beginning!?

My excitement spilled over that day, and my family and work colleagues soon knew that I would be giving the graduate address at the Athabasca convocation ceremonies!

The reaction by others to my graduate address news was mixed and was an experience all onto itself. Overall, there was consensus: all shared in my excitement and were very supportive of my latest endeavour.

My family were most excited and wanted to tell everyone else; they shared their reflections of my life as a student. One friend asked me if my graduate address would be delivered online, and I thought that was a really good question and better yet, a really good idea.

A colleague suggested that writing the graduate address would be like writing another course paper, and one unassuming acquaintance queried how I was chosen and if my name was picked out of a hat.

In preparation for this address, I decided that I needed to spend some time reviewing the tangibles of my educational journey at Athabasca University. This involved reviewing binders of organized and somewhat disorganized notes and learning materials, randomly reading saved emails from faculty and classmates, and returning to overview what seemed like an endless number of computer files.

I was really hoping to find that perfect research article or email message which might have acted as a springboard for this address. Instead, unexpectedly, this process provided me the opportunity for deep reflection of the diverse life experiences and lessons learned as a graduate student at Athabasca University.

Upon this reflection, it occurred to me that perhaps the most important personal work of convocation is the opportunity for review and consolidation of life experiences as a student, an opportunity to reflect on the events which we (and our families and friends) experienced, an opportunity to reflect how those events impacted our lives for the few short years that we were engaged in our studies, and an opportunity to reflect and contemplate how we see our future lives unfolding as we close this part of our learning journey.

For most of us, it probably seems like such a short time ago that we gathered the courage to apply for admission into Athabasca University.

After careful consideration of other university programs, I chose Athabasca because of its strong reputation for and commitment to high quality adult education, and because of the online delivery mode which would allow me to continue to finely balance my family, work, and community commitments alongside my studies. Each of us came to Athabasca with unique and individual life circumstances which brought us to our studies.

I rather suspect that, for most of us, the learning experiences of our first courses remain etched in our memories. At first, the readings were daunting, and our initial papers were written with much trepidation. I recall having to look up an endless number of words in the dictionary as I worked my way through one of the first required texts.

I also recall, early in the program, reading a difficult and lengthy article which took me hours to complete. Being an avid reader, my mother asked me what the article was about?I had to tell her that, after spending the whole day reading, I really didn’t understand any of it.

Thankfully, we had the support, encouragement, and understanding of the faculty and our classmates to assist us through many of these first learning challenges.

My reflection of studies at Athabasca University also brought to mind fond memories of the online dialogue with classmates from around the globe. The relationships which developed with peers were supportive, collaborative, and open.

There were great debates and challenges to our thinking which frequently elicited a range of emotions often difficult to convey and interpret online. I suspect that we all took the opportunity from time to time to step on our soapboxes while our classmates provided supportive comments and actively probed and pushed our thinking in different directions.

And then there were those challenging group projects where Tuckman’s developmental stages of group process (as cited in Johnson and Johnson, 2003)?the stages of forming, storming, norming, and performing?became so predictable.

This group work provided the opportunity to work closely with our peers, and it was truly a privilege to learn alongside classmates who valued diversity and who supported exploration of thinking and knowing through a variety of approaches. As a side note, thank goodness for the performing stage of group work because the storming stage was usually a challenge in itself!

My review of learning experiences also brought to focus the role of others in our education. Our families and friends shared in our learning journey, providing us with emotional support, listening to the endless stories about our latest reading and writing challenges, assuming family responsibilities as we focused on our studies, and giving us space when we needed it.

Thank you to our families and friends for your patience as our books, notes, and assorted papers gradually infiltrated every corner of our homes, and thank you for your tolerance as we claimed rights to the computer night after night. We could not have completed our learning journey without the support of our family and friends?thank you for your role in our success.

Although the review of my learning materials initially centred my reflection on the beginning of this learning journey, it also brought to focus the months leading to the completion.

In particular, as I reviewed the feminist perspectives of my research project, it struck me that many of the foundational threads which I incorporated into my research were also critical underpinnings of our virtual learning environments.

Underpinnings of valuing multiple perspectives, critical reflexivity, collaboration, egalitarianism, and caring were embraced and supported by the Athabasca faculty. Through the supportive guidance and gentle?and sometimes necessary ?not so gentle??nudges of the faculty, we are celebrating our success today. I extend a sincere thank you to the faculty.

I am also reminded of the support of the Athabasca staff?to name a few?the staff in each of our programs who attended to our many phone and email queries, the Helpdesk staff who provided us with virtual support and kept us up and running in a technological sense, the Research Department staff who guided us through our first nervous attempts at completing research ethics approval submissions, and the library staff who mailed those exciting boxes of books and who were so understanding when we requested borrowing extensions. Thank you to all of the Athabasca staff for sharing in our learning in a multitude of ways.

To conclude, I would like to extend my best wishes to the graduates. You have demonstrated determination, hard work, and perseverance in reaching your educational goals.

As described by O?Sullivan, Morrell, and O’Connor (as cited in McAllister, Tower, and Walker, 2007), ?Transformative learning involves experiencing a deep, structural shift in the basic premises of thought, feelings, and actions. It is a shift of consciousness that dramatically and irreversibly alters our way of being in the world? (p. 305).

Our selves have been transformed, and upon reflection, we perhaps realize that returning to our previous state of being is no longer possible or perhaps desired: ?It is impossible [to return] to step into the same river twice? (Bateson, 1994, p. 44).

We are left to reflectively consider, ?Now what?? The paths ahead appear slightly blurred as we move forward into another phase of our lives.

The transition will call for deep reflection and contemplation about which paths we choose to travel, which challenges we need to tackle first, and which stones we refuse to leave unturned. But most importantly, we will continue to challenge ourselves and others as we set about in our work of transforming the world.

Please join me in congratulating the Class of 2008!