Young and determined

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My life at Simon Fraser University was rather different from most other students. I had spent five years at night school getting the equivalent of my first year and went up to classes a day after my youngest child entered grade one. We had one family car, which made travel tricky as I dropped my husband off and continued to class.

I was asthmatic, and we had to park in gravel lots, down a very steep hill behind the campus. By the time I made it to the building I was huffing and puffing. In 1969 there were maybe thirty mature students up on the hill. I remember lining up to access registration and watched in horror as the nits moved about on the head of the longhaired young man in front of me. I kept my distance!

The choosing of courses was a race—get this one, will it fit with that one? The huge theatres had screens up on the stage and you filled in your blanks, back to the hallway, got them checked off and headed to the next theatre. If things just didn’t work you tried again, and then picked something, anything for the spaces left, so as to get the correct number of hours in.

I remember little of my actual classes and tutorials but was upset when my first paper came back with ‘Get a book on writing essays!’ scribbled across it. I had no idea at all about bibliographies, or sources.

I was on the very tightest of tight budgets and always took a Kaiser bun with egg salad in it, as it was the cheapest in the cafeteria! I made a friend who went down to the bursar’s office one day and I went with her. I found I could get scholarships for marks and bursaries for those in need, a fabulous discovery as I think much of my schooling was paid for.

I managed to fit three semesters into each of my two years on the hill, yet when graduation was near I was not on the list! I did not have the required courses to teach elementary school. Who knew you needed an advisor to set you straight? I did summer school biology and all the microscope work had me in glasses before the term was out. On the plus side though, I got a job from my practicums before I graduated. 

I have memories of strife! Of effigies being burned, of students sleeping in the rotunda and some classes cancelled because of rambunctious student activity. People gave you a funny look when you mentioned where you were at school! SFU turned me down for further studies but I went across the line to Western Washington and did my M.Ed. degree there – two of my grandchildren have both graduated from that university since.

I taught from 1974 to 1996, when I retired. I then became a director of the British Columbia Retired Teachers’ Association (BCRTA) and am still there, moving to editor of the quarterly magazine, a position I have held for 12 years, having run through all the official positions including president. I look after my Delta retirees communications as well and maintain my membership in Mensa. I look back at my days on the hill and wonder how on earth I ever managed to do it, with four children and a myriad of other responsibilities – but when you are young and determined, you can do anything.

Sheila Gair
PDP 1971, B.Ed. 1975