Convocation 2020—Interviews with Graduands

Fahid Hussain and Louise Robinson

The 2020 pandemic has affected many aspects of AU students’ lives, including this year’s upcoming convocation, with ceremonies cancelled in both Edmonton and Toronto.

A “reimagined virtual convocation” will take place on October 2, 2020.  Invitations to eligible graduates were sent in June, with July 31, 2020 as the last date to submit applications to graduate.  Students must meet all graduation requirements by the first week of August.

According to AU, the “virtual convocation will include the historic and traditional elements of our in-person convocation with the updated and modern twist of being delivered virtually and simultaneously to this year’s graduands across the globe.”  Highlights include a virtual tour of AU’s Athabasca campus, Beyond 50 anniversary celebrations, forums and exhibits, and meet and greets.

Unlike traditional brick and mortar post-secondary institutions, which offer rigid bi-yearly semesters, AU students often have the option of taking single courses, or working on their degree at their own pace.  Despite these advantages, graduation may sometimes feel like an unattainable or distant goal for students working full time, raising families, or struggling with the demands of a rapidly changing world.  A recent AUSU Annual Report for the 2018-2019 year revealed that the average age of AU students is 30.9, while 73% work during their studies and 68% care for dependents.  In contrast, Statistics Canada reveals that the average age of post-secondary students in Canada in 24.

However, graduation is possible, as shown by recent and upcoming AU graduates, Fahid Hussain and Louise Robinson.   The Voice Magazine reached out to both students to share some of their inspiration and find out how they achieved this major milestone.

Fahid Hussain – Bachelor of Management

Toronto’s Fahid Hussain is set to graduate from AU with a Bachelor of Management this August.  Fahid began his educational journey at Athabasca University approximately three years ago in February 2017.  With the end in sight, he stated, “I’m looking forward to graduating from my program.”

Here at AU, many students enroll for a variety of reasons, including work, life, and family commitments.  On why he chose AU, Fahid stated, “Open admission gave me the opportunity to enter post-secondary studies without having to worry about whether I needed to go back to complete other classes from high school to meet prerequisites and I was confident that my life experiences would be sufficient.”  Fahid considers his AU experience as very rewarding and distance education provided him with a flexible schedule, which allowed for time with his family.

Fahid advises “current students who are struggling to complete their degrees to hang in there!  Sometimes it can feel that you’re so far away from it, but once you reach that point knowing so well that it’s all going to end, you’ll miss it!”

When asked if he had any advice for future AU students, Fahid replied, “My best advice to future students is to set deadlines for yourself on a calendar and budget both your time and money.  Do you really need a physical textbook?  Or could an iPad be more sufficient for reading in the long term?  I highly recommend looking at bursaries through AU and the AUSU!”

Fahid revealed that after graduation, he is “going to miss the community, the tutors who have been so helpful and most of all the time I spent working toward a Bachelor’s degree I never thought I would be pursuing!”  Although he was looking forward to Toronto’s October Convocation, he believes “that AU will allow graduates from 2020 to attend next year in person!”  Fahid continued, “It would be more preferable to one done online since my final wish in the time I’ve had with AU is to have my kids see me on stage as a graduate!”

Looking toward the future, Fahid stated that he is “looking forward to a lasting career, utilizing my knowledge I’ve gained in the workplace.”

Louise Robinson – Bachelor of English

Similarly, AU student Louise Robinson recently completed her 3-year Bachelor of English in June.  The Calgary-based graduate has taken 4 years to complete her degree, during which she experienced “a lot of hardship and turmoil,” while working full time and raising two children with her husband.

Like many students, Louise’s journey was not linear, working rather than continuing onto post-secondary education immediately after high school.  She stated, “When I was in high school, I was told that not all kids went to university, which I translated into meaning I was not smart enough.  I gave up on school after I graduated and worked any and everywhere I could.  I had always wanted to become a teacher but figured that was not in my future.  Flash forward 20ish years.  I work in an elementary school and was talking to my assistant principal when he asked me why I was not a teacher.  I told him my story, he convinced me to go to school, so at 36 I found AU.”

Louise heard about AU from a coworker, stating, “I figured it was the only way I would be able to go school while working full time.”   This rang especially true a mere four days after her application to AU when her husband was laid off from his oil and gas job.

When asked about her educational experience at AU, Louise stated, “I often tell people…I always thought I was dumb, but now I think I must be pretty intelligent.  Because if I can do business math at my kitchen table with little to no help, then I must be a rock star!  (I have a learning disability in math.)  Nothing tested my strength and dedication than those hard, required classes.”

When asked if there is a light at the end of the tunnel for students struggling to complete their degrees, Louise believes that “There is!  Remember to enjoy every moment.  My goal was to go to convocation, that to me was almost as important as the degree, I wanted to celebrate all the things I had given up to get to this place, however, I graduated during the pandemic, and will not be able to attend convocation.  While I was upset by this, I quickly turned it around.  My suggestion to those in the same position: celebrate! Find a way to celebrate.  For me, my daughters and I made a mortarboard hat, got dressed up and had a mini photo shoot the day my degree arrived in the mail.”  As a side note, she stated, “I stalked my mail lady that day waiting for her to deliver the mail, I got really excited and we hugged it out on the street.  Those memories are the best!”

With regard to this year’s online convocation, she continued, “As I mentioned before, it was a driving force for me.  I wanted my girls to see my walk across the stage, I wanted them to see that anything is possible no matter how old you are.  More importantly, I wanted to walk the stage, to have my moment.  But that is a thing of the past, I try not to be upset about it, you have to make things your own and celebrate how and what you can.”

Louise advises future students to “take it easy on yourself.  You will have good days and bad days.  Days where you question why you even started and days when nothing seems to make sense.  You will probably fail an exam or a paper, but that is ok.  The journey is the destination.  Not giving up is just as important as the information on the page.”

Although there are a few classes that she did not have a chance to take that she plans to eventually register in and a few well-liked tutors that she plans to keep in touch with, as a new graduate, Louise has big plans for the future.  “I went to AU as step one of three steps.  I want to be a teacher, so step two is to start my education degree at St. Mary’s university in Calgary in the fall.  The coolest part is when it is all done, I will have not one but two degrees and will be the most formally educated person in my family.  Once I have my second degree, step three will be to get hired as a teacher!  Bring it on!”

For more information on Fahid’s Bachelor of Management program, AU students are encouraged to check out the website.  For those interested in Louise’s English degree, be sure to check out AU’s 3 and 4-year options.  More information on AU Student Bursaries can be found as well as from AUSU Student Awards and Bursaries.

Congratulations to Fahid and Louise, along with all 2020 graduates, as we leave you with a statement from AU President Dr.  Neil Fassina, “There are no limits to learning and growth, and congratulations are well-deserved.  We hope you will be able to participate in our reimagined convocation to celebrate your success, and to mark AU’s 50 years of supporting and celebrating our learners.”