It was almost 23 years ago to the day.
David Start had his 3-year-old daughter Virginia on his shoulder; 6-year-old sister Mary Beth was holding dad’s hand. The two, sporting matching dresses, strolled through campus with their dad following the graduation of their mother Susan in 1989.
Flash forward a couple decades. Virginia and Mary Beth will once again look to take a stroll with their dad through campus. However, this time it will be mom and dad watching them cross the stage at Alumni Hall.
Tomorrow afternoon, as part of Western’s 300th Convocation ceremonies, the sisters will pick up their master’s degrees – Mary Beth in History and Virginia in Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS), the same degree her mother received 23 years ago.
Virginia, who works as an information management consultant in Ottawa, completed her undergraduate degree at Queen’s University before moving to ‘rival’ Western for her masters.
“The pull of the MLIS program was too great when I found myself as a recently graduated English and Drama major with few job prospects in sight,” she said. “Lo and behold, I found myself back at my mom’s old stomping grounds.
“Western really surprised me. I had the idea that I would get in and get out with a degree and call it a day. However, I met some fantastic people at FIMS (Faculty of Information and Media Studies) which made me sad to see the program come to an end.”
Mary Beth, who has continued on at Western to pursue her PhD, completed her undergraduate schooling at the University of Guelph. After working a few years as a museum curator, she made the decision to return to school, joining her sister on campus.
“I suppose returning to school after working for several years has made my experience as a grad student a bit different from that of my peers,” Mary Beth said. “I really enjoyed the History MA program. It was an intensive 12 months but, after being away from school for a few years, I was quite happy to immerse myself in my studies.
“All of the professors I worked with were wonderful and helped me to succeed in my program. Western certainly has an atmosphere all its own. My favourite places to spend time are in some of the school’s older buildings. Lawson Hall is a great home for the History Department, with its own history as a former library.”
When Susan Start snapped that memorable photo of her husband and daughters at her own Convocation, she never thought she’d be returning more than two decades later to witness her daughters getting their master’s degree.
“I do remember the day well – a perfect autumn day. My parents, David and the girls were all there,” said Susan. “It’s wonderful that my mother, now in her 80s, will be able to attend her granddaughters’ convocation with us on Friday. My dad was a Queen’s man, and a cheerleader (in the early ’50s), but adored their rivalry with Western and their many trips to this campus. He would have gotten such a kick out of this 300th Convocation.”
Does it seem odd that one of Susan’s favourite memories of her own graduation is a photo she’s not even in?
“I was walking with my parents behind David and the girls – and the view of them talking and laughing, together with the gates of the university behind them, just struck me as the way I wanted to remember that day,” she said. “It may seem odd that my favourite memento of my own convocation is a photo that I am not in, but to me it’s the day through my eyes.”
So do the sisters recall that snapshot captured so many years ago? Virginia does, sort of.
“I vaguely remember my sister asking why I was allowed to be up on my dad’s shoulders and not her, but other than that it’s a bit of a blur,” she said. “It is pretty neat, sort of a family affair with my sister and me up on the stage and my parents watching from the audience, which was the other way around 23 years ago. Not something that happens every day.”
Mary Beth doesn’t recall asking why her sister got the free ride on her dad’s shoulder instead of her, but looks forward to creating a new memory to call her own.
“It seems a bit like a funny coincidence for both my sister and I to be graduating with master’s degrees at the same time, from the same school where our mom received her MA 23 years ago,” she said. “It certainly wasn’t planned. I guess sometimes these coincidences just happen by chance.”
With mom and dad planning to sit proudly in Alumni Hall Friday afternoon, Mary Beth and Virginia will soon be able to say they have a Western degree – just like mom.
“I’m lucky to have such a great family behind me and look forward to this serendipitous convocation,” said Virginia, unsure if her sister would get her turn on dad’s shoulder this time around.