Celebrating ‘learner for life’ Lynn Keating …
Our graduates span cultures, creeds, and community — even generations.
We’re proud to introduce you to one of today’s Bachelor of Arts graduates, Lynn Keating. Lynn’s story on ‘becoming a scholar’ began 16 years ago from her home-office in the southeastern Saskatchewan small town of Wolseley. Lynn, 73, is the epitome of a lifelong learner. During her time with AU, the retired RN says she had the “zeal of a missionary … mastering course after course, and every time I completed a class I felt like someone had picked me up, spun me around and I never thought the same way again.”
How I got started taking university classes
While working as a general-duty nurse in our small-town hospital, several of my co-workers and I were made aware that the University of Saskatchewan was encouraging diploma nurses to get their nursing degree. Three of us decided we should pursue this and we started making plans to get the registration papers sent in.
However, in my ignorance, I neglected to provide the registrar with Grade 12 marks, as well as my school of nursing marks because I assumed they would know that I was a Registered Nurse who, had long ago and far away, met the requirements. As a result, I did not have my paper work completed in time to join my two co-workers who had figured things out properly and I didn’t meet the deadline.
A viable alternative
I was all primed to take a university class. I had a nursing friend who was working on her nursing degree, from a distance. She told me about Athabasca University and I began to explore how to get started.
The first class I took was ‘Introduction to Child Development.’ I enrolled because by then I had my first grandchild and I thought it might be helpful. I did very well in it. So, next, I decided to take a class, which might be of benefit to me, and my job as a nurse. I worked a lot with geriatric patients then, so I enrolled in ‘Introduction to Gerontology 1.’
I did well in that class too. I decided I might like to ‘keep going,’ and felt it might be good to channel my efforts into an area where, perhaps, in the end, I would get a degree.
My oldest daughter, Bridget, suggested that Women’s Studies courses have a broad range of interesting studies. Hence, why I chose that particular area from which to major and learn. Women’s Studies courses will “essay you to death,” I always say. However, I loved that. I always felt I had a writer’s soul and never minded writing essays, and I felt that I was able to retain knowledge better using that modality over writing a final exam.
Slow-and-steady wins the race (16 years later!)
Each year, I picked one or two classes to work on through the winter, and into that first January semester. I tried to leave the summer months free of classes, but I did overlap the season a few times. Yet, I was fascinated with every class I took. In fact, I cannot think of one class I didn’t like at all! I must say it’s a wonder I did well in those first classes because I didn’t take the compulsory English course until my 13th class.
I really had a steep learning curve then. Who knew about style guides? I sure didn’t! I had patient tutors and I purchased texts on that subject to help me along. Who knew about dangling participles and misplaced modifiers? I vaguely recall learning about them in high school. Still, I soldiered on — with only my high-school English as a background to those first 13 classes. I purchased several grammar and punctuation books to help me. When I took my ‘Introductory Composition,’ with Pam Chamberlin as my tutor, I realized that I would have benefited so much more if I had taken this class, first.
“I always felt I had a writer’s soul and never minded writing essays, and I felt that I was able to retain knowledge better using that modality over writing a final exam.”
Speaking of writing essays, my favourite one was entitled ‘Up the Republic! The ‘Furies’ inAction: The Role of Irish Feminists in War 1913-23.‘ I actually won the Barbara Roberts Award for this piece of work. Both my husband and I are of Irish descent and we had been to Ireland twice on holiday, so this topic was near-and-dear to my heart; I loved researching and writing it.
I also wrote one about birth control — which I felt was rather humorous. I titled it, “Limiting the Brood: The Reaction of Urban Canadian Women Between 1900-1940 to their Construct as Reproductive Units.’ And, another essay I wrote was about ‘Inana: Goddess of Damn Near Everything,’ – which, to me, was quite funny – so I inflicted it on some of my friends for their opinions. Somehow, I thought they should be aware of this new knowledge I had acquired and, I think (for the most part), they were considerate enough to read my work.
I have always loved history and, as it turned out, so many of the courses in Women’s Studies involve the genre. I was fascinated with all this knowledge; I felt I had acquired informed opinions on many things I was studying and, as such, I was able to look more critically at all kinds of things, in a way I had not been able to do before.
Knowledge really does broaden one’s mind. Unfortunately, in our society, and sometimes when living in a smaller community, we hear misguided and often negative opinions about various sociological and cultural subjects. For example, negative tropes about First Nations cultures, or one’s sexual preferences that do not fit the ‘binary model,’ or women’s rights (among many other topics). Needless to say, I was so pleased that at Athabasca University I was able to study ‘accurate’ material that addressed these issues.
The ‘first day of school’ — everyday!
Studying became a sort of hobby for me. Before each class, I would make a trip to Staples and buy a package of yellow-lined paper in pads of six, in preparation for my next class. Most of my year was taken up with my studies during the time that I was also working. I am an early riser, so I would get up very early, sometimes 5 a.m. and I would have my coffee while doing my studies. On my days off, I would get all my machines going (dishwasher, clothes washer, dryer, etc.) and then head for my books. I am a morning person, so the bulk of my studying was done in that part of the day. I loved doing research. For one class, I visited the Winnipeg-based archives of a group of nuns of the Our Lady of the Missions congregation, in order to get information on the early days of their work in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
I visited the Regina Sexual Assault Centre to get a better understanding of what went on there, and, when I was doing an assignment on the problems associated with women and HIV in southern Saskatchewan, I spent time interviewing social workers and nursing staff at the Regina General Hospital. I also interviewed four women with “unusual” occupations for another essay.
Gaining new knowledge and insight can really shake things up. I think of the class that I took on ‘Early Christians’ and also the class on ‘Goddess Mythology’ when I make that comment. The knowledge I took from those classes has made me look at my own faith differently. When the topic comes up, I am frequently trying to set people straight about sex and gender — what a great class ‘Gender, Sexuality and Society’ was! Learning what I did in that class brings out a certain confidence in discussing this topic with friends. I feel that I am informed, or at least better informed than some are.
Athabasca tutors are amazing. At the beginning of each class, I would send an email introducing myself to my tutor — usually stating that I was a “needy” student (and I was). I was forever checking and re-checking things and asking for direction, so I got to have a lot of interaction with many, probably most, of my tutors. They were all so helpful, so knowledgeable, and patient. One of my first introductory classes was ‘An Intro. to Women’s Studies,’ and I just couldn’t understand the language of some of the long readings.
I had no idea what was being said. Tutor Nancy Langford led me through several passages, line-by-line, to make sure I could understand the material. Thank goodness for her! As I recall, the tutors returned my queries quickly, politely, and many of them in good humour. As I said before, it was a style of learning that suited my needs very well.
I liked that each Athabasca course had an evaluation for the students to complete. I feel this is important. I also liked the efficient and smoothly operating system in place for enrolling in a course. There were never any mistakes made with course material in any of the classes I took.
In sum, I took 16 years to complete a degree that had nothing to do with nursing, but that really did influence me as a nurse, in many ways. But, mostly, I learned so many things on so many topics.
I went slowly through my courses to savour all the material — and because I wasn’t pushing to be finished by a certain date, I was 73 by the time I finished. This fall I’ll be 74. I vowed if I ever finished my degree I would attend my convocation — “even if I had to crawl across the stage!”