‘Greatest relief of my life’: VIU grads overcome huge obstacles to celebrate convocation


From a distance, it’s the polish of the occasion that stands out.

Graduates were wearing their best outfits and posing for photographs at Vancouver Island University’s (VIU) convocation in Nanaimo on Wednesday.

But lean in, and you hear how hard-earned their diplomas and degrees were, over years of pressures in a pandemic, economic pains that forced many of them to go back to work and doubts they could go the distance.

Yet all of them were still there.

“Because it was something that I always wanted to do, and I’m going to cry. I’m going to be turning 79. It’s taken 19 years part-time,” said VIU graduate Cara Christie.

“I’m so proud of her as though she’s my own sister. I think that’s amazing what she was able to accomplish,” said Christie’s friend Sharon Russell.

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“Oh my goodness, it feels like the greatest relief of my life,” said graduate Maggie Stevens.

“It doesn’t feel real. It’s been a long time. I’m not sure it will feel real for another month or so,” added Kiri Birmingham, another graduate.

“I feel proud. Since I came from India, this is my first graduation ceremony, so I really feel nice and proud,” said graduate Jiss Mary.

“Every time I failed, I could just pick myself up again and keep improving,” said VIU graduate Brandon Lewis Charnley.

“…this is the last graduating class of the music department, which is bittersweet for all of us, I think,” said VIU graduate Anaise Labonte.

“I think this particular graduation is really important. We’re looking at a group of students, high school students who missed their high school graduation with COVID, things were really messed up,” said Dr. Stephen Davies, a VIU history professor.

“This might be the real first graduation they’ve had.”

Three young men graduating from VIU’s WEST (Workplace Essential Skills & Training) program, for people with diverse needs, were cheered on by their mothers. The women all shared carpooling between their homes in Parksville to get their sons to Nanaimo’s VIU campus daily for two years to make this graduation possible.

“Carpooling for the two years, and we all worked full time to make it work,” said Kristine Mallory and Deirdre Janssen.

Meanwhile, it was a dream seven years in the making for Lavinia Moore.

“It’s a birthday present for my 73rd birthday. It really hit in today with the ceremony, the significance of graduating,” said the VIU graduate.

“And straight A student! She’s amazing,” said Moore’s daughter Rebecca Hill.

In all, 1,200 students with diverse stories like these will attend convocation ceremonies at Vancouver Island University this week.

Skye Ryan

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