convocation, Archaeology, students

Archaeology grad’s unconventional path to convocation

May 12, 2021
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Deanna Smith’s university education started earlier than most. At six years old, Smith was licking petri dishes and examining bacteria with her mother.

 “We couldn’t afford child care,” says Smith. “So as a young kid, I attended lectures and labs with my mom as she earned her master’s degree in microbiology.”

Watching her mother, now a lawyer, chase her dreams while raising a young family taught Smith how to persevere and thrive in the face of adversity. Smith, now a mother herself, graduates this spring with a Bachelor of Arts (honours with distinction) in archaeology.

Smith’s unconventional path to graduation, filled with detours and challenges, reflects her strong sense of resilience. She’s overcome many obstacles with grace and grit.

“I grew up around academia,” says Smith. “I didn’t have the opportunity to attend university right away, but I always knew I’d be back.”

She worked two full time jobs to save for her education. In 2015, she enrolled at Langara College before transferring to SFU’s Department of Archaeology in 2017, a move that helped her find her academic voice.

“As an Indigenous person, people often see me as the stereotype of being uneducated and out of place,” says Deanna.  But she says the department, her peers and the faculty became like family, helping her realize the importance and value of Indigenous voices. “We belong in academia. We add a new perspective that needs to be heard.”

The acknowledgement fed her determination. In the summer of 2018, at seven months pregnant, she travelled to Portugal to participate in the department’s bioarchaeology field school where she spent four weeks excavating an archaeological cemetery.

“I had a few challenges and had to do things differently, but I loved field school,” says Smith. “In class we learned how to do things the ‘ideal’ way, but the real world isn’t like that.”

Smith excelled inside and outside of the classroom. As she neared her due date, she questioned whether to put her degree on pause. But reminded of her mother many years before, she continued.  

She returned to class just six days after giving birth with her newborn son, Logan, in tow.

“You can accomplish anything you set your mind to,” says Smith. “You might have to work a little harder, but it doesn’t mean that it’s any less valuable.”

Next up, Smith and baby Logan head back to class to pursue a master’s degree in archaeology.

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