I hope every student has a mother who loves them as much as mine loved me. After four years of hard work, good times and meeting life‑long friends, I was graduating. My mom was walking down the stairs at the bookstore, where I had to pick up my cap and gown. Her heel got caught in the pebbled surface of the stairs and she fell, scraping up her leg. A bunch of people rushed over to help, including the safety officer on the construction site for the biotechnology building, ice pack in hand. Everyone was asking if she was okay and the first words out of her mouth were: “Where can I get a new pair of panty hose? My daughter is graduating this afternoon!” Bless the ladies from the bookstore – new panty hose were purchased, some bandages applied and my mom was ready to see her kid – the first in our family – graduate from university.
My first encounter with UBC was about four years after leaving St. Eugene Residential School in Cranbrook. I applied to work as a cleaning person in student dormitories. After receiving my cleaning supplies, and awkwardly balancing brooms, mops and pail, I began looking for the dormitory assigned to me. I had no idea where the dormitory was. I was walking outside the library (prior to renovations) where suddenly I saw a reflection of myself in pyramid-like mirrors clutching a cleaning rag, a pail, a mop and a broom. The bell sounded, students began scuffling past me hurrying to change classes, some even ran as if in a race, and then suddenly all was quiet again! I stood there alone staring at myself in front of the mirrors feeling almost naked. I dropped the bucket, mop, broom and rags and left with the intention that I was going to upgrade my high school grades and go to UBC. It took me several years. I went to night school, attended BCIT for upgrades, managed to get into nursing at Langara College, then lo and behold I enrolled at UBC, received my BA with a major in anthropology then received an Adult Education diploma. As a UBC student in the 80s, I experienced good times, ok times, awkward times, and funny times! One time in particular, I was running to my next class when I noticed walnut-shaped nuts had fallen off a tree and scattered all over the walkway. I decided to take a quick walk on top of the nuts, and because of my silliness I couldn’t stand up after falling on my first try. After a couple more attempts to stand up, a couple of students from my class helped me back to my feet again, then we all continued to run as fast as we could to be on time for our next class!
Joanne Hartung (nee Siebert), BEd’91, DipEd’99
It was the fall of 1967 and I was in my first year. I was asked to run for Science Queen. The nominees were invited to a tea at Cecil Green Park House. At the tea were some science professors. After the tea was over one of the professors walked with me across campus. I was living at Totem Park. We chatted and parted ways. Being a naive 18 year old I knew his name but it wasn’t until years later that I realized our meeting that day was a highlight of my time at UBC! His name was David Suzuki, professor of genetics. Years later I took my children to listen to a presentation of his at UBC. I was fortunate to talk to him. He did not remember our brief meeting in 1967 but modestly asked me, referring to the presentation: “How did I do?”
My grandmother (Eleanor Wright, née Butler) was actually one of the first women to go to UBC in the 1920s. She studied music, but I’m not sure that she actually graduated. She was 70 by the time I was born, and she lost her sight due to macular degeneration by the time I was five, so I had always known her as a non-sighted person. After a year as an exchange student between high school and university, I ended up going to UBC. My first trip back home to Vancouver Island was at Thanksgiving, and my grandmother was very interested to hear all about my new experiences. She started asking me questions: was the Math Building still covered in ivy? Was it going all red right now? Had I been down to the beach and looked across to the island? Then her questions expanded to whether I had been up Seymour Mountain, and did I like the view from the 2nd pump? I was blown away, because I had never considered this aspect of her before – that she had been a fully-sighted person for most of her life, and she had sighted memories that we could share. My grandmother had a tenacious spirit that was reflected in everything she did. From being one of the first women to go to university (and drive and own a car in that era) to being heavily involved in the Girl Guides program and setting up the program in Japan after WWII, to living to be almost 101 in her own house by herself even though she had lost her sight 25 years earlier. She was an amazing lady and a feminist long before that term gained meaning, and I’m sure UBC had an impact on the way she lived her life.
My third year in university was definitely a year filled with surprises. I’d just moved to family housing (with my husband and my three-year-old daughter) and as I was learning to balance studying and family life, I discovered, to my surprise, that I was expecting again. The next surprise came with my first ultrasound exam, when we were informed that we were going to have twins – double the joy! My classmates were extremely supportive: they catered to my sugar cravings by providing me with an endless supply of my favourite chocolate bar (until I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes) and they kindly planned and organized a surprise baby shower for a Saturday morning in May. The surprise was theirs, in the end, as I went into premature labour and welcomed my twin sons on that very morning. One of them has now returned to his birthplace to study for a bachelor of commerce degree at the Sauder School of Business.