Alumni Western Be Extraordinary The Campaign For Western


joan mcarthur blair
Retired President, Nova Scotia Community College

Every morning since 1977 I have slipped a Western ring onto my baby finger. Recently I left it behind in a hotel and was highly distressed because my mother gave me that ring when I graduated from Western. The hotel found my ring and returned it to me and as I thanked them and drove away I began to reflect on all the years of wearing the ring and what it has meant to me. I have graduate degrees from other universities but I don’t wear their rings, I wear my undergraduate ring and have for 30 plus years. I wear it because my mother gave it to me and because Western was the door to my life.

I was the youngest of four and the first to graduate from university. I was not a great Western student. I worked most nights at the information desk in the UCC just to afford to stay and, of course, I spent an appropriate amount of time in the Elbow Room after work. That said, Western began for me a journey of discovering the world, discovering myself and realizing that life is always there in the next moment to be grasped and experienced for all it is worth. I studied English because I loved words and still do. At Western I met powerful women who were craving new roles for women in the world and they opened my eyes to what was possible. Women like Margaret Laurence who I met when she was there, I assume, as a writer in residence.

I remember sitting in her office and listening to her talk about writing and having the honour of her reading my young and untrained words. At Western I became someone and that becoming led me through 25 plus years in the Canadian Community College system championing learners’ dreams of a better life. I came to understand that education is all that matters: to know, to imagine, and to understand is the foundation of everything positive we long for in our society. My real education began at Western, a very foreign place for a rural girl without much knowledge of the world. Western took me in however, and I learned and worked and started on a journey that has led me around the world, through a Doctorate, into the power of education and steeped in me in the quest to know.

Recently, I retired from being a college president and returned to my first love, writing. I am working on a book on education leadership; a subject very removed from what I thought I would write when I sat with Margaret Laurence. I think if my mother was alive she would be proud that I still wear the ring that represents her simple belief that I could do anything. I am not sure the ring will last another 35 years but for now I slip it on every day and simply wonder what I might possibly learn today.

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