What’s in a Scholarship?

At our CFUW Victoria club annual meeting I was honored to speak in celebration of the all the young women awarded a bursary or scholarship. These were my words to those assembled:
“Hello members and friends. I have a story to tell that I hope you will tuck into the back of your memory, and recognize the appropriate time to bring it forward.
This is the story about a child who grew up on the remote coast of mainland British Columbia, living in a small wood house pulled up on to a float of logs and surrounded by water. It was called a floathouse.

The few people living in the area, or passing through, were hand loggers, beach combers, and fishermen. Early schooling was taught by the child’s mother because there was no school, or even other children to attend one. The mail and groceries came by boat every two weeks.

Logging Camp

When she was ten years old her family moved to a logging camp. There she was able to walk to a one-room school, typical in many rural areas of Canada, where the teacher taught twenty-eight pupils. High school wasn’t available here so instead of the family moving, she was sent to town by herself.At age thirteen she went to board with a family she didn’t know. She was able to visit her parents only on occasional weekends.

Four years later, near the end of her Grade 12 year, a favourite English teacher approached her to say, ‘You need to write the government finals anyway, so maybe you’ll think about filling out this application for a scholarship.’ In 1955 the 400-student school was not yet accredited, and writing finals in all senior courses were mandatory.

Her school principal called her to his office later, and told her basically the same thing. The scholarship was a gift from Crown Zellerbach Corporation, the largest employer in their small town,. The winning applicant studying at university to become a teacher, would receive $500 for each year, for five years. He asked if she wanted to be a teacher, something she hadn’t ever thought of it. Her mind whirled but she signed the forms, wrote the exams, and then secured a good job selling ladies clothing.

She had a steady boyfriend, as most of her girlfriends had. Her family had assumed the two would marry soon, and she would become a homemaker and mother as both her mother and grandmothers had been.

A Winner Announced

It may come as no surprise to those who know my history, it was my picture in the local newspaper when a scholarship winner was announced. With that, everything seemed upside down. Here was a logging-camp, mill-town girl, going off to try her way in a big city. Arrangements were hastily made; space in the dormitory secured and registration at the University of British Columbia completed.

Upon arrival, culture shock set in: sorority girls wearing cashmere and pearls, dances called “mixers”, afternoon science labs held in cold, drafty, army huts. There were Saturday morning lectures, bus schedules needing transfers, heavy cafeteria food and line-ups for absolutely everything. For her, it was all so new, and such fun.

The girl went home for that first Thanksgiving weekend and broke off with her boyfriend. From that time onward she didn’t really fit in at home. She had discovered a whole new world that she had never been aware of, and had decided to be a part of it. She had already learned new ways of looking at life. She obtained a university degree from UBC, met lifelong friends, including a best friend who became her husband, and developed a satisfying, varied, career that also included motherhood.”

Life Changing

So now, after all those years since, I can tell you it has been a very good life–one beyond my wildest expectations. Winning the scholarship did all of that for me; it was indeed life-changing. If you remember nothing else about stories of award winners, please realize that even small amounts of money can provide approval, and encouragement, to any student. Never underestimate the change that can result in the lives of students who receive our CFUW trust money. If they are ready to make the change, it has the potential to create a very different and much improved life.