From the time she was little, Lisa Gray knew she wanted to help people. She didn’t realize how big that dream would become, nor how much she could achieve, until she enrolled at Athabasca University.
Gray received her Master of Counselling (Counselling Psychology) degree — and the 2018 Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal, awarded annually to AU’s top graduate student — at Convocation on June 8th. She also gave the students’ address, sharing a message on behalf of graduates with the hundreds of peers, family members and friends in attendance.
It was a moment mixed with equal parts joy, pride, humility, excitement and surprise.
“It’s amazing what you can achieve when you have people supporting you, and now I want to do more,” Gray says, explaining that family and faculty have been behind her all the way. “I am absolutely not the same person I was when I started this program.
“AU provided me with so many rich opportunities, and I’ve been able to engage in self-reflection, challenge my own beliefs and perspectives, and, most importantly, gain the confidence to do things I didn’t think I could do.”
Gray’s AU journey started while working as a student success coordinator at a private college. She was honoured when people shared their stories and life experiences, and wanted additional tools so she could offer more help to people. Enrolling in the Master of Counselling (MC) program in AU’s Faculty of Health Disciplines was the first step, and proved to be the perfect fit.
“In my practicums, in particular, when I would leave a session and feel like the client had an ‘aha’ moment, those became my ‘aha’ moments as well … I could see the connection between what I was doing and how this was helping, which was extremely rewarding.”
“You’re there in people’s time of need, and it can be raw and emotional,” says Gray. “As they share, I have so much hope for them, and I get to see the transformation in their lives as they work through their challenges. I feel so connected to the human spirit; so connected to the community and to humankind.”
Inspired by FHD faculty and with their encouragement, Gray completed a thesis focused on evaluating the shifts in parenting following parents’ participation in the Circle of Security program (a research project led by FHD faculty, of which Gray was invited to participate).
That, in itself, was an accomplishment because few students are accepted into the thesis route. Gray made the assignment all the more daunting by completing it while putting in more than 800 hours on her practicum, commuting to and from that practicum, being part of the Circle of Security research team, and being pregnant (son Evan is now four months old). She has already parlayed that paper into several conference presentations, honing presentation skills that came in handy for last Friday’s Convocation address. She is currently working with faculty mentors to prepare two articles for publication, and has her sights set on a PhD and becoming a Registered Psychologist in Alberta.
“I’m so grateful for the people around me,” Gray says, emphasizing that it would not have been possible without the unconditional support of her husband (Andrew, an AU B.Comm. student who is the Vice-President, Finance, of a busy construction company), extended family, and the AU professors who repeatedly reminded her that she could accomplish anything she set her mind to.
“I don’t consider myself a superhero by any stretch. Anybody can do this — with time, effort and strong support from family and AU. All of the people at AU just want the best for you, so with all that encouragement, you just want to do more.”