My paternal grandfather’s opportunity to attend high school was stolen by the Russian Revolution. The plan was for him to follow his older brothers to the high school in Nikolaipol, the one nearest the Mennonite village of Gnadenthal where he grew up. In the photo above I am standing in front of the Nikolaipol high school on my visit to Ukraine. My grandfather never got to be a student there.
Instead of getting a high school diploma Grandpa was forced into military service where he spent time in prison for refusing to do weapons training since he was a conscientious objector. Eventually, he ended up in a bakery making bread for soldiers. Losing his chance for higher education made Grandpa very determined his children and grandchildren would have a different outcome.
My grandmother had loved school too and was very sad when she graduated from the elementary school in Gnadenthal, Ukraine and couldn’t go further with her education because she was a girl. She wanted things to be different for her daughters.
Thanks to the financial priorities of my grandparents’ their six children all graduated from a private Mennonite high school and then went on to university or college earning degrees in education, fine arts, medicine and nursing. Their seventeen grandchildren all went to university too achieving degrees in many different fields.
I grew up in a family where education was valued and was seen as a privilege and a responsibility. So graduations were important.
When my Mom was really ill in the last years of her life she said one of her goals was to be alive for all the high school graduations of her grandchildren. And she was!
I was lucky indeed to have parents who valued education and paid for my university tuition which afforded me the opportunity of becoming a teacher.
During the early years of our marriage, I worked as a teacher to support my husband Dave as he completed his university degree.
We were pleased that our sons chose to spend time furthering their education after high school. We observed the way their years at university expanded their worldview, helped foster a concern for important issues, garnered them a wide circle of friends and served to train them for their future careers.
Since I ended my career as a teacher in a high school I had the privilege of participating in the graduation festivities of many of my students.
As I have been going on my bike rides around the city I have been seeing these graduation signs on lawns, a way to recognize graduates in a year when other kinds of celebrations aren’t possible. Earlier this week I was in the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden at Assiniboine Park and saw so many graduates in their gowns doing photo shoots with their families. On social media, I have been observing the unique and interesting ways high schools and families have found to celebrate graduations even though indoor ceremonies aren’t possible.
Even in a pandemic graduations are important because they are one way we show that our society values education and we recognize the benefits it affords not only to students but to the social, cultural and economic fabric of our country and the world. My grandparents knew the value of education already a century ago and their family has been blessed by that.