I am a Governor at the Community College in the city where I live. It is a regional college and has two satellite campuses, each in a small town in the region. One of these campuses happens to be in the small town where I was born.
I was slow getting my act together last year to go to convocations and so I missed the convocation in Pembroke, where I first lived, but this year, I was ready. I booked the day for convocation away from work and arranged a drive to travel the two hours to the Pembroke Memorial Centre, the local hockey arena.
I was born in one small town in Ontario, Canada, and grew up in another small town in Quebec. When I think of these towns, I think of habitations on the edge of wilderness and both these towns, which I knew so well, are indeed on the edge of vast Canadian wilderness. You can walk from the centre of both towns to a meadow that is still being grazed, or a small forest ready for a child’s adventures.
When I went away to Montreal and McGill for university at age 16, on a full scholarship, very few of the people I knew had this opportunity. If there had not been a scholarship, my widowed mother would not have been able to afford for me to live away from home. My mother left the small Quebec town where we lived so that my younger brother and sister could attend Vanier College and McGill University. Then, as now, the cost of education might be manageable, but the cost of living away from home is not. That is where the satellite campuses of small community colleges make a difference. They bring hope to teens living in small towns that they may be able to get a better education than a high school diploma.
I arrived at the Pembroke convocation with the College President, who kindly drove me up to Pembroke from Ottawa where I live. As we arrived at the arena parking lot, youth from the Police Foundations Program, in crisp uniforms and highly polished shoes, directed us into a parking space, respectfully managing bystanders and cars going just a bit too fast. We were helpfully directed into the arena by one young officer-to-be while some others shook hands with a colleague from the graduating class who had arrived with her family for the ceremony. Our guide cheered as he showed us the direction to take.
Entering the arena, we navigated through the usual crowd at a college graduation. There were nervous graduates, stepping on long, fancy dresses or needing help with the Windsor knot they wanted in their tie. There were fathers and grandfathers looking too hot in their pressed suits. There were mothers brushing off their graduate’s gowns and grandmothers brushing off their husband’s blazers. You could hear many discussions about the best seats and how to turn off the flash on a cell phone camera.
The parking lot outside the arena, the arena corridors and the bright red-painted seats themselves were filled with people who reminded me of my neighbours growing up. Navigating this route from the car to the arena for the Pembroke campus graduation was emotional for me.
My education has allowed me to become a wealthy person, wealthy beyond my mother’s dreams. As a doctor, I have been privileged to play an important role in many people’s lives. On Friday afternoon, I was honoured to take a place on the stage as a Governor of Algonquin College and to enjoy a front row seat as most of the 400 graduates of the Pembroke campus received their degree, diploma or certificate. There were tears, cheers and shouts from joyful graduates and their proud families and a few times, it was too emotional. Along with the crowd, I could feel myself tearing up. There was no doubt about it – it was too close to home.