By: Nick Martin. Reproduced with permission of the Winnipeg Free Press.
Now that Nelson Doucette is graduating from the University of Manitoba, he reckons he should visit Winnipeg for the first time since 1956 to pick up his degree.
And he's graduating from U of M at this week's convocation?
"I'm a lifelong learner. Some people drink and smoke, I do courses," the 70-year-old Doucette laughed from St. John's, where he earned his social work degree at home in Newfoundland by distance education.
"I was a soldier in Winnipeg in 1956 -- I was 17 at the time. I'm returning for the first time, to receive my bachelor of social work," he said.
Doucette will be among 2,743 students receiving degrees during U of M's 130th spring convocation this week. That's about the same number of grads as in recent years, officials say, but down from the 3,000-plus annual average earlier in the decade.
Ceremonies take place at the Investors Group gym at 10 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
This is the third university from which Doucette has graduated. He took his entire social work undergraduate program through distance education, primarily online.
A former welder who's just retired after a long career as a counsellor with Veterans Affairs Canada, Doucette noted that, "I did courses that were applicable to my job."
He studied vocational education and public administration at Newfoundland's Memorial University, and gerontology at Mount St. Vincent University in Nova Scotia.
The U of M fit his needs the best when he opted for social work, said Doucette. "I must compliment them, they were always accessible.
"I started in 2003. I had nine years to complete my course," but did it in six. "Between jigs and reels, I managed to complete my degree."
Doucette is a Mi'kmaq with British heritage on his father's side. Because he spent much of his career working with Newfoundland veterans from the First World War and Second World War, Doucette dealt with the British government, since Newfoundland's veterans were not Canadian citizens until Korea.
Now that he's got his latest degree, "I thought about hanging out my own shingle, or volunteering," he said.
Then there are much younger grads who went to class on campus, including twins who have twin tales of university success.
All right, twins attending the same university is perhaps not unusual. And they graduate at the same time, which makes sense, though officials at the U of M can't recall twin grads recently.
But in the same program?
Gillian Purvis knew all along she wanted to study business, but brother Blair Purvis tried other programs first before switching to the I.H. Asper School of Business.
Both agree that they don't look much alike, so it took a while for profs and students to realize that the Dakota Collegiate grads were twins.
"We were really close growing up. It's nice having someone to bounce ideas off," said Gillian, who earned the gold medal for top marks among business school grads this year.
She got into business school after acting as a supervisor at the Whyte Ridge Cinema City. "I just really liked how everything functioned, and the different departments worked together smoothly," she said. "My dad was a business grad from U of M back in the day."
Blair said they shared about half their classes at the U of M together.
"We decided to take classes together to help each other out," working together in study groups and on class projects.
Back in kindergarten to Grade 12, they were only in the same class for parts of grades 5 to 9 at Hastings School.
Blair works for Manitoba Hydro in human resources and marketing, while Gillian is in finance with TD Canada Trust.
Meanwhile, other people get their professional degrees after decades in the profession.
After 27 years as a nurse in Manitoba, Harriet Yarmill is getting her nursing degree this week.
Yes, of course she was qualified to be a nurse all those years. "Diploma-trained nurses like myself can take a two-year degree" to get a bachelor's degree in nursing, said Yarmill, who took one course at a time over six years of raising a family and working full-time as a palliative care nurse.
Watching foreign-trained professionals go back to school to upgrade their qualifications helped inspire Yarmill, who grew up in East Braintree near Falcon Lake.
"It was a real experience to put yourself back in student mode, getting back to learn how to study," she said. "The word 'focus' really does describe the mode you're in."
The degree program helped Yarmill to see how to handle the administrative side of nursing, and how to learn to handle the needs of families and communities, she said. "I learned the beginning steps of research, of statistics. It's given me greater tools to do my job," Yarmill said.