By Mary Elizabeth Archer Special to
Geraldine Kelly (L) and
Julie Byrne are real road warriors.
Once some people set their mind to furthering their education,
they are willing to go through fire and brimstone to get there.
That seems to be the case for Geraldine Kelly and Julie Byrne.
Since 1996, the two Memorial University students have forged
a strong bond in their quest for bachelor degrees.
What is exceptional about Ms. Kelly and Ms. Byrne is that they
have undertaken university careers while still tending family
responsibilities in communities hundreds of miles from the St.
Johns campus they attend. Their friendship began when they
first met as mature students taking transfer credits for university
through the Grand Falls-Windsor community college campus. The
friendship was cemented when they became roommates and travelling
companions on long weekend treks to and from Grand Falls-Windsor,
Bay dEspoir and St. Johns.
Picture this scene: At the wheel of her camper van/student mobile
is Ms. Kelly. As passenger, moose alert and, sometimes windshield
wiper, we have Ms. Byrne. A five-hour drive from St. Johns
brings the twosome to Ms. Byrnes home. And what is the
first thing she does when she gets in the door? She puts on a
load of laundry, even at 2 a.m., with her son Andrew perched
on the dryer in an attempt to catch up on moms news and
stay up past his bedtime. Two more hours and Ms. Kelly reaches
her home in Conne River to a not-infrequent reproach from
her worried son about driving in treacherous road conditions.
The above scenario plays out once a week (although this past
semester Ms. Byrne has been back at the Grand Falls-Windsor campus).
In addition to her studies, Ms. Byrne has to think of her three
children, her husband and her live-in aunt. Ms. Kelly has her
son, husband, ailing mother, and (at one point) band council
responsibilities to accompany her academic life. Fortunately,
in both families, everyone pitches in.
Ms. Byrne reports that her youngest son Evan, at 10 years of
age, is the best housekeeper and cook imaginable. In fact, she
feels that all three children have grown to appreciate her more
since she started university. And this makes them better prepared
for their own forays into higher education as evidenced
by her daughter Amys pending graduation from university.
One can imagine that, with lives like these, Ms. Byrne and Ms.
Kelly must have been exceptionally motivated to tackle four-year
Ms. Kelly, a former band council chief for two years and youth
care worker for many more, encountered her epiphany with a client
in a courtroom. She recounts that she was challenged by the judge,
...and what are your credentials? That incident spurred
her to embark on her university career, with the aim of securing
a social work degree.
Over the years Ms. Byrne has tried her hand at an assortment
of training (secretarial, computer) and jobs (cake decorating,
babysitting) on top of raising a family, but could never land
anything one might call a paid career. Finally, one day she simply
looked in the mirror and said, Hey! Now, Im going
to do something for me! Thus began her academic journey
moving in the same direction, coincidentally, as Ms. Kelly.
These decisions brought the two women into a very different world
one of ideas, debates, theories, textbooks, assignments
and exams whirling within the more familiar (and just
as demanding) world of family, home and job. This is a common
theme for nontraditional students. For all the support their
families provide they still have to manage timetables that would
make the most organized student faint-of-heart. How do they cope
with such dizzying schedules?
They laugh a lot, for one thing, chuckles Ms. Byrne. Ms. Kelly
concurs that a sense of humour helps. Theyve also stood
by one another through trials and tribulations.
Theres times I wanted to pack it in, and would cry
and want to come home, and she would drag me out of it,
said Ms. Byrne. Theres times shed want to pack
it in; the bags would be by the door, Lets go! I
cant handle this no more, and Id talk her back
out of it!
Of, perhaps, even more value to the women has been the option
to do university courses at a distance. Although the two women
have taken many courses in the face-to-face format, distance
education has allowed them to complete their programs in a timely
fashion without unduly sacrificing family needs. This is underscored
by the fact that, following their graduation this coming May,
they both wish to continue their studies by distance.
Ms. Kelly speaks about her desire to see the entire social work
undergraduate program accessible by distance. Ms. Byrne talks
about a social work diploma program shes heard the university
now offers. And both declare that their educational experience
has been well worth all the hard work and discipline.