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Fall Convocation 2008

New graduates

Ready for a new adventure

By Meaghan Whelan

Omar Abu Salam is an adventurer. When he was 17, this Palestine native decided he wanted to move away from home to study abroad. Based only on the good word from a travel agent, he came to Memorial University in St. John’s, a place he now considers his second home.

“Newfoundland means a lot to me,” he said. “It has given me a new language, new friends, even new family. It has given me freedom. Freedom to move, freedom of speech.”

This sense of connection with the province has led Mr. Abu Salam to the decision to stay put after graduation.

“I would like to find a job and stay in Newfoundland,” he explained. “Someday I will probably move home, but for now I would like to stay and apply the skills I’ve learned.”

Mr. Abu Salam will be graduating at the fall convocation session with an international bachelor of business administration with a focus on marketing and a host of volunteer experience. In addition to his on-campus volunteer record, Mr. Abu Salam was selected to participate in Global Vision’s Junior Team Canada Forum in Ottawa.

Based on that experience, Global Vision asked Mr. Abu Salam to represent Newfoundland and Labrador in an upcoming trade mission to Columbia and Panama. “It’s very significant for me as an international student to be representing Canada and Newfoundland abroad. I’m really proud,” said Mr. Abu Salam.

“When I moved to Canada, I only knew one thing about it. I knew it was a safe country and it truly is. I’m glad to be here. I think it’s the best decision I ever made in my life, to come to Canada and especially to Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Brothers in convocation

By Janet Harron

Many of those at fall convocation will know of the Brothers Byrne, a musical duo consisting of Pat and Joe Byrne who released their only album, Towards the Sunset, in 1982. That same year, Joe Byrne’s eldest son Allan was born, to be followed two years later by Matthew.

Fast forward 26 years and the first generation of the Brothers Byrne are now both professors at Memorial University while the second generation are graduating Oct. 17 with MAs in history, both specializing in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador.

“We’ve both always been interested in storytelling and find history to be a great way of reading, writing and telling stories,” said Allan Byrne, who is currently working with the Newfoundland Historical Society. His brother, Matthew, works at the Museum Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The two brothers are also continuing the family tradition of musicianship, with regular gigs at the March Hare Literary Festival, the Random Passage film site, and various St. John’s watering holes. The two will be appearing at this year’s St. John’s Storytelling Festival on Oct. 22 at the Ship Pub.

Nursing student helps bring vision to impoverished Mexicans

By Sharon Gray

Christopher Nolan, a fast-track nursing student who will graduate at fall convocation, finished his education off in an innovative way. As part of a clinical elective, he travelled to Mexico for two weeks in August with Samaritan’s Purse Canada as a volunteer team member working in an eye clinic.

“In Queretaro, I resided at a local orphanage with 11 other individuals from across Canada,” said Mr. Nolan. “I was cross-culturally trained in eye anatomy, eye health and disease, vision screening and testing, as well as how to prescribe basic eyeglasses to individuals in need who would otherwise have no financial ability to visit an optometrist.”

One of the challenges Mr. Nolan faced was the hesitancy the Mexican people had in saying “no” while testing their vision. “Vision testing is a methodical process and as examiners we were constantly asking ‘is this clearer?’ Many of the patients would always say “yes!” During my first few examinations, the patients had me puzzled and I had no idea which prescription was needed as it seemed everything made their vision clearer. I soon found out that this indeed, was a cultural norm and that I was not going crazy!”

Mr. Nolan was particularly moved by one older lady who was technically blind in one eye due to cataract removal, and who had immature cataracts in her other eye. “Simple activities such as walking, cooking and being able to see the faces of her grandchildren were a constant struggle. I was able to examine her eyes and give her two prescriptions (prescription sunglasses and normal eyeglasses) that, although clinically barely helped her vision, to her was a drastic improvement. When trying her glasses on, she began to sob and in Spanish said ‘now I can see my grandchildren.’ She was in disbelief that the service we were providing was free-of-charge and that a group of individuals cared so much about people like her that we were there to help. This is a memory I will forever cherish.”

This was Mr. Nolan’s second experience with Samaritan’s Purse, and part of the funding for his travel came from the Eleanor and Norval Blair Travel Scholarship. In 2005 he travelled to Belize in Central America where he volunteered in make-shift medical camps and helped distribute Christmas gifts to local children and adolescents. Now working in Bonavista, he has decided to go to Paraguay this December, leading the entire team for two weeks and participating in a Christmas gift exchange and medical caravans.