Slow and steady wins the race

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Ottawa residents Gary and Cristina Vanderhaden at Convocation 2016 [photo credit: Stacy Swanson]

Ottawa residents Gary and Cristina Vanderhaden at Athabasca University Convocation 2016 [photo credit: Stacy Swanson]

The term “paced program” couldn’t be more fitting for recent AU graduate Cristina Vanderhaden. The Ottawa-based, BA (French) major and recent retiree from the RCMP, spread out her AU adventure over a full 30 years — a snail’s pace for some — but a perfectly timed journey for Cristina.

Starting AU in 1985 gave her the opportunity to watch our university transition from a distance education-by-correspondence school, to one that is now primarily online.

She says her self-study program was set up such that she had regularly weekly phone contact with her tutor — a system she says she actually preferred before the switch to e-learning — “although I got used to the email system, too,” says Cristina.

Capital juggle

Cristina, 69, lives in Ottawa with her husband of 39 years, Gary Vanderhaden, a negotiator with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

Throughout her part-time AU studies, Cristina worked full-time for the RCMP — starting in 1977, in Yellowknife, N.W.T. — as secretary to the commanding officer, and eventually moving to its Ottawa-based international headquarters where, for a decade, she worked as an HR policy advisor until retiring in 2013.

“My work was quite busy and demanding. I was working the whole time — full-time — and juggling the AU degree,” says Cristina, noting how much she enjoyed the university’s paced program.

“What I like about the university … is they give you that [paced] schedule and it’s a good marker on how you’re progressing in a course,” she explains.

Cristina Vanderhaden, Athabasca University, B.A. grad, June 9, 2016 [photo credit: Gary Vanderhaden]

Cristina Vanderhaden, Athabasca University, B.A. grad, June 9, 2016 [photo credit: Gary Vanderhaden]

“You have so many weeks to start — and I was always ahead of the schedule because I didn’t want to be rushing. And that was the nice thing about it! So then you can do your own research. It was really good.”

Although initially registering in Administration studies, she later decided to major in French because she had a background in the language.

“I studied in France for a year, after my first degree. That was 1967,” she says.

The tough get going

While husband Gary concedes he doesn’t possess the French forte like his wife, he certainly was her constant academic champion — especially when the juggle got challenging. Perhaps all that self-government negotiating he’s such an expert in at his own work, gave him the upper hand.

“He kept telling me ‘just keep going,’ says Cristina, noting that although she really wanted to finish, sometimes she’d throw up her arms and ask: ‘what am I doing this for?’

I was always ahead of the schedule because I didn’t want to be rushing. And that was the nice thing about it! So then you can do your own research. It was really good.” ~ Cristina Vanderhaden, BA, Athabasca graduate, 2016

In the end, she figured, if anything, it was gaining valuable “knowledge for the sake of knowledge” — a veritable accomplishment, she realized.

Today, Gary has nothing but glowing superlatives to say about his wife’s tenacity and new letters following her name.

“I always thought that she was one of the most disciplined adults I saw in terms of study. She really stayed at it; she was very dedicated. I cheered her on,” he says, adding that his big push to push his wife came after she had already retired from the RCMP — when she was working on completing her last four AU courses.

“I said, ‘Finish this.’ And I think she wanted to,” he remarks.

And the rest is history. Cristina says her fondest memories of AU were those last few electives.

Tragic last days

“I was finishing my last requirements and part of that was French Literature and reading Shakespeare — which I enjoyed tremendously,” she says, explaining although she “loves the tragedies,” she had never been partial to King Lear.

However, AU’s teaching of it changed all that.

“It’s about an abused father taken advantage by his son. [This time], I cried when they took the eyes off of Gloucester. I think it was the most brutal of the Shakespeare tragedies,” she says.

I always thought that she was one of the most disciplined adults I saw in terms of study. She really stayed at it; she was very dedicated. I cheered her on.” ~ Gary Vanderhaden

Another great AU moment Cristina recalls, is when she attended an alumni event in Ottawa at the National Archives — “I enjoyed it tremendously,” she says.

Flying out with Gary to attend Convocation 2016 in Athabasca, was another story. Cristina concedes she hesitant about going. After all, she didn’t know anybody; she didn’t really see the point.

Once again, Gary performed his magical way with words.

He told Cristina in no uncertain terms: ‘This is an achievement; I’m very proud … you have to go.’

Cristina Gown

Cristina is more than glad she took that advice.

“I feel very good,” she beams.

Not only did she get to meet some of her AU colleagues face-to-face and see a new part of the country, but, above all, she got her chance to walk across that convocation stage to receive what represents 30 years of non-stop commitment to learning.

That’s impressive.

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