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(June 13 , 2002, Gazette)

Remember when?

Stephanie McCarthyWhen you accepted your degree from the chancellor or vice-chancellor and received the hood from your dean or director, what were you thinking? That you couldn’t believe four or five years (six, even) had passed so quickly? That you couldn’t wait to leave academia and invest your new knowledge and skills in a practical, rewarding environment? Or even thinking about the assignment due next week: maybe you are registered for spring semester courses!

Whatever the future may hold for students, the past several years of undergraduate studies were hopefully rich in memories and learning experiences. University should be a positive experience. Stressful at times, yes, and perhaps even confusing. After all, not everyone knows the path they will choose when they first enter university. It may take years before you select the program you feel best suited for and most interested in. As well, students change disciplines mid-way through their degree. Students should not be afraid to change a program if, once started, they decide that it is not for them after all. Your undergraduate years should be something to look back on with satisfaction and pride, no matter how many stops and starts you make.

University affects everyone differently. Some people thrive. They bound energetically into university life and are determined to extract all they can from the opportunities that await them. Others may enter thinking pragmatically, perform to the best of their ability and exit several years later, having successfully completed their studies, and perhaps having participated in campus activities, perhaps not. Whatever the mix of studies vs. campus life, it was their choice. And do others graduate wishing they could have done more? For those students leaving university this past week, I wonder how many will look back with wistfulness, and how many will quickly move along, having already relegated their years of university to the “completed” pile.

I visited the convocation ceremonies on Wednesday, May 29, and spoke to several BN graduates. While several agreed that their newly-minted degree was a stepping-stone perhaps on the route to more education, it was a general consensus that their formative years at the Centre for Nursing Studies were an unforgettable experience.

“You got to meet a lot of good friends [who] are going to support you throughout the rest of your life,” said Nicole Lewis, from Paradise.
Wanda Janes, from Conception Bay South, had similar sentiments, stating that she and her friends have “a lot of good memories over all the years.”

Both agreed that the training they received at MUN is a very valuable asset that they will complement with experience.

Indeed, Michelle Quinlan, from Birchy Bay, definitely feels “prepared to go into the workforce,” stating that while perhaps university is at first overwhelming, with time students come to truly enjoy the program they have chosen. Cora Mews, also from Birchy Bay, reiterates that her years at MUN were most definitely meaningful, and that she will carry her experiences with her into the future. She echoed the feelings of many a graduating student when she said convocation was the final coming-together of a class that has grown and learned together over several years: it is the final party.

A friend of mine graduating from another discipline shared another kind of lasting impression from her undergraduate years. Lisa Nash, BA, from St. John’s, said that she will remember one professor in particular who helped her as she hesitated with her chosen degree. It was his advice and encouragement, she said, that “kept [her] on track.” It seemed to me that everyone was quite rightly content with his/her undergraduate experience.

Personally, those four years flew by. And I did my best to enrich the academic experience with as many activities as practical. I even braved my sky-high level of stage fright and tried out for the Festival Choir, a play by the fourth- year drama students, and a musical. Was it a coincidence that this all occurred during my first two years of my degree? Or was I simply more willing to take chances (read: more willing to embarrass myself) as I was still settling in to the university atmosphere? (For the record, I was accepted in and thoroughly enjoyed singing in the Festival Choir, got called back for the play but couldn’t make it to the re-audition, and never heard back from the musical! Ah well, one-and-a-half out of three ain’t bad.)

When I graduated in May 2001 I already knew I would be returning as a part-time student, whether it was via a Web course while I was living in France, or to take spring semester courses this year to finish several things I simply couldn’t fit in beforehand. In that respect, my undergraduate experience is not quite finished. I haven’t gone back to relive the past four years however; I’m focused firmly on the future and working on material I will be able to call upon for future plans.

So will your convocation picture look different from your high school graduation portrait? Will the knowledge and life-wisdom you have amassed over these past years emanate from your gaze? As you pose confidently for the photographer, smile proudly and think to yourself, congratulations.