What’s in a Scholarship?

June is school leaving time in most of the country. Please tuck this story in the back of your memory to bring forward when its appropriate.

This is the story about a child who grew up on the remote coast of mainland British Columbia living in a house pulled up on to a float of logs and surrounded by water. The few people living in the area, or passing through, were hand loggers, beach combers, and fishermen. Early schooling was taught by her mother because there was no school, or even other children to attend one. The mail and groceries came by boat every two weeks.

When she was ten years old her family moved and she was able to go to a one-room school, where one teacher taught twenty-eight pupils. It was typical then in many rural areas of Canada. But there wasn’t a high school in the logging camp so she was sent, at age thirteen, to board with a family she didn’t know, and visited her parents on weekends occasionally.

Four years later, near the end of her grade twelve year, a favourite English teacher approached her saying “You need to write the government finals anyway, so maybe you’ll think about filling out these application forms for a scholarship.” In 1955 the 400 student school was not yet accredited, and finals in all senior courses were mandatory.

When the school principal called her to his office he told her basically the same thing. She learned the scholarship was a gift from the principal employer in the town, Crown Zellerbach. It provided $500 for each year for four years, to a student studying at university to become a teacher. Did she want to be a teacher? She hadn’t ever thought of it.

Her mind whirling as she signed the forms, wrote the exams and secured a good job selling ladies clothing. She had a steady boyfriend, as most of her girlfriends had; the family assumed they would marry soon, and she would become a homemaker and mother as both her mother and grandmothers had been.

It may come as no surprise to those who know me that it was my picture in the local newspaper when scholarship winners were announced. Then everything was turned upside down. There I was, a logging camp mill-town girl, going off to try her way in a big city. I hastily made the arrangements: secured space in the dormitory and registered at the University of British Columbia.

When I arrived culture shock set in: sorority girls wearing cashmere and pearls (my best sweaters were Kitten brand in Orlon except for one Dalkeith in wool), dances were called “mixers”, afternoon science labs in cold, drafty, army huts, Saturday morning lectures, bus schedules needing transfers, heavy cafeteria food, line-ups for absolutely everything, but oh, it was all so new, and such fun.

I went home for that first Thanksgiving weekend and broke off with my boyfriend. From that time onward I didn’t really fit in at home. I had discovered a whole new world that I had not been aware of, and had decided to be a part of it.

I learned new ways of looking at life, obtained a university degree from UBC, met lifelong friends, including my best friend who became my husband, and developed a satisfying, varied, career that included motherhood also. It has been a very good life – one beyond my wildest expectations. Winning the scholarship did all that – it was indeed life changing.

If you remember nothing else about stories of award winners, even small amounts that provide approval and encouragement to a student, please never underestimate the change that can result in the lives of these students our CFUW clubs give money to. If they are ready to make the change it has potential for a whole different improved life.