Tag Archives: VIU

Week 18: Finding the Raven and new heroes

An event I attended at the end of March marked, for me, the beginning of the homestretch of my temporary appointment. It was the raising of a prayer pole and warrior canoe at the Cowichan campus in Duncan, where Megan Joe became my latest hero.

Her grandfather Harold was lead carver on the project: overseeing the pole carving and doing the work alongside a team of carvers on the warrior canoe. They’re very impressive – go see them if you get a chance.

He couldn’t be there for the ceremony, so Megan read his words to the 100 or so people assembled. She was visibly petrified of speaking in public. Shaking and near tears, bolstered by her family and her community, She did it. She stood up there and did it anyway. We patiently waited and listened to Elder Harold’s words spoken through her. She was a brave young woman among all the veterans on that day. I was almost in tears with her.

I wondered if it was simply the age-old fear of public speaking that 90% of the world has, or if there was an added weight on her shoulders to represent her family in place of her grandfather, in front of her whole community. I wanted to go up to her afterwards and tell her what a wonderful job she did, that public speaking gets easier, that it’s good to feel the weight of responsibility, that she’ll grow into it, because she’s got such a strong community behind her.
I was also acutely aware this was one of my last events as a VIU employee, and it made me a little verklempt. I’m a sentimental fool, as anyone close to me knows.

One of the speakers that day explained why the Veterans Prayer pole is Raven. “The shapeshifter – he changes. Warriors must change to go to war. Some of them didn’t change back when they returned.”

April was a blur – the realization that my term here at VIU is ending has spurred a different set of tasks: reports to write, files to hand off, vacations to plan. After my last day here, I’m taking three weeks off, then deciding what direction I want to head next.

I am going to miss this place. I chose to take this job despite the distance from my home and my family, because I knew it would be a tremendous learning opportunity – a chance to shift and change in new and productive ways. I realized that day in Cowichan: I’m always seeking to learn, to grow, to change. I’ll always be touched by new heroes like Megan, and I’ll always be on the lookout for The Raven.

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Week 4: 70 per cent done

Convocation week. This is why we do it. This is why we all work so hard for this university, so all these students can have their day and celebrate their accomplishments.

I’m a sentimental fool: I cry at movies, weddings, graduations, even if I don’t know anyone involved. I’ve been to two convocations in the last year and a half: first my partner Ken received his Master of Arts in Learning Technologies from Royal Roads University, then a year later my son Aidan received his Bachelor of Arts from University of Victoria. That’s a lot of happy tears.

This past week was the first time I’ve been part of the convocation stage party: a distinguished varietal of brilliantly-regaled academics (and administrators like me) in all colours and designations. My gown is plain by comparison: black, with a black hood edged with white satin, representing my Master of Arts. I joked with our Provost that it’s almost worth getting my Ph.D. in order to wear a colourful gown, hood, and a funky doctoral hat on such occasions.

“Just like the marketing gal — to choose a field of study based on the regalia,” he joked back.

The convocation program – a product of our graphics team (along with the convocation committee) – arrived from the printer in time for the ceremonies and 99.9 per cent accurate – as good as you could ever hope for in a publication like that. This despite the tragic loss of our lead graphic designer at the end of December. As I flipped through its pages, I marveled at how the team has pulled together to support each other and get through a difficult time, and I felt a pang of loss again. And pride, if truth be told. More tears, this time bittersweet.

Life, and work, goes on.

I spoke with honourary degree recipient Patrick Lane at the convocation dinner Thursday night. “Do you remember me?” I asked with a wink, “I was a 16 or 17-year old poet who attended a writers’ retreat at Fort San, Saskatchewan, in about 1982, and you were one of the writers in residence.”

Of course he didn’t – he was in Saskatchewan at around that time because he had fallen in love with writer/poet Lorna Crozier (go buy her latest book, it’s fantastic). He told me the story of returning to the prairies to convince her to come away to Vancouver Island with him, which she did, to the delight of B.C writing community.

Katelin Albert, our Distinguished Alumni award winner, joined our conversation, and we got to talking about writing and following your passion. They both urged me to finish my book and submit it for publication somewhere. Why not keep following one’s passion, 33 years later?

So, on this rainy Sunday afternoon, I’m off to the coffee shop to start editing the first draft of the novel I wrote last summer. Taking Katelin’s advice, I’ll get it to what I feel is 70 per cent complete, because after all, “If it’s perfect, they won’t have any useful feedback to give you; you’ll be doing them a favour.”

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A warm welcome at VIU

I started a position as Director of Communications and Public Relations at Vancouver Island University a couple of weeks ago.

My brain is full keeping up with new names, positions, regional politics, social landscapes, local business leaders, now also cross-Canada partners, colleagues from other regional universities, and international linkages. It’s incredible how much VIU punches above its weight.

But what makes all this whirlwind/learning curve so worthwhile is that my heart is full as well, and I am learning – learning deeply. Coming from Saskatchewan, and having experience with (and friends within) treaty first nations, it never really hit me until now that most BC land is completely unceded. They’re not just words you write them in a speech (which I have been doing ever since I moved to the west coast: “I acknowledge we’re on the traditional territory of the Coast Salish people [or insert appropriate first nations here]” – it’s in the boilerplate). They mean something. The west coast land we all live on, the real estate we buy and sell, was never handed over, relinquished, or surrendered in any way.

That realization has dawned on me since coming to VIU two weeks ago, as I learned about the relationships VIU has with First Nations on the island, and the meaningful steps we have taken in aboriginal education. Then yesterday Elder Geraldine Manson gave a welcome as we opened the Health and Wellness centre on campus yesterday. In her remarks she said “Each and every person who sets foot on this ground is sacred.”

With my new, deeper understanding of what that word “unceded” means, Geraldine’s gentle, unreserved, and very genuine welcome transformed me so much I am still tearing up a day later thinking about it. I am so grateful to have her permission to do my work at VIU.

I’ve been welcomed so warmly by everyone at VIU, in Nanaimo, in Parksville and Qualicum (I have yet to visit our Cowichan and Powell River campuses), from board of governors members, members of university senate, my colleagues in senior management, my colleagues in my department, all other staff in University Relations. Most of all to my president, and to the man whose shoes I can only partly fill as I take over so he can go on parental leave. President Ralph Nilson is a leader in the true sense of the word, and Dan Hurley set me up for as smooth a transition as he possibly could given the sheer volume of work there is to be done as a post-secondary administrator. Their confidence in me is heartening and inspiring.

Welcomed? Yes, I feel very welcomed at VIU, in the deepest sense of the word. I’m very glad to be here.

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