In 1972, as a Grade 11 student, I was one of those guys who had a ’64 Chevy and hung out in the school parking lot, attending just enough classes to maintain my student status.
To augment my habit of buying car parts, I worked a 40-hour week at a service station.
One day, while pumping gas during school hours, a customer whom I had been pestering to hire me on as a deckhand at his tugboat company came in for fuel. He finally relented: “If you can be down at the docks by 6 this evening, you have a job!”
I told my boss and, amazingly, he understood and wished me well. Next major step was to go home and tell my mother – a teacher for many years – that I was quitting school.
I didn’t know what to expect when I gave her the unexpected news. Her response was one of calm. There was a discussion on the importance of education and my future.
With that – and her disappointment disguised – she let me go.
Leaving school in Grade 11 was a big decision. The school system was going through a major transition. In years prior, if you challenged the system, there was an authority that challenged our young immature minds right back. This era was different. Somehow it seemed that authority was missing. The feeling was that if you were not planning on going to university, there was no need getting your diploma.
The following spring, we were navigating a large chip barge up to Port Melon. It was a particularly windy, dark night. In an attempt to control the barge in high winds, we encountered an issue with the winch. The boat pulled over on its side, resulting in months of time off.
My mother, seizing the opportunity, convinced me to go back to school. It was a long haul catching up. Her persistence was unending. With night school, summer classes and returning to my high school, I was finally able to complete Grade 12.
Shortly after graduating, I received a call from mother telling me I was to go to a particular photo studio in New West. I showed up in jeans and shirt. She had brought a knitted tie, my dad’s shirt and a suit jacket I hadn’t worn for years. The proprietor wrapped a green sheet around my legs to look like dress slacks. He took a magazine and rolled it up and told me to hold it.
With long, curly hair and a surprisingly witty smile, not only had I graduated, I had a full-on graduation picture (left) to prove it.
My mother wasn’t done yet. She marched that photo to my school and had them put it on the wall along with my original classmates. To this day, there I am, the only one in full-colour looking dapper in my suit jacket and matching slacks – and what appears to be a significant special diploma with honours.
Thanks, Mom. Without the Dogwood diploma, I never would have finished off my 32-year career as an assistant fire chief.
Paul Olson, Surrey