STELLARTON – My grandmother.
Two words that were left hanging after Brandy Fraser-Henley was interrupted from a pre-convocation interview where she was asked why she was determined to get in the licensed practical nursing program at the Nova Scotia Community College.
One can assume it was because her grandmother was a major influence in her life or she saw first hand the care that can be given to elderly people, but because of a rushed moment, the answer to this reporter’s question was never really answered.
But maybe some things are better left unsaid.
In fact, Henley’s story was interesting enough without the hint that a maternal figure in her life influenced her life. She waited six years to get into the LPN program at the Pictou Campus, worked at a local adult residential centre and updated courses online, but never gave up on the dream to be a licensed practical nurse.
“Word finally came two years ago that I was admitted into the program,” she said. “It was a lot of hard work and you needed to be dedicated, but I have no regrets.”
Henley, a young woman who had a baby in between her first and second year of the program, is now a permanent full-time employee at the Aberdeen Hospital.
Her story is unique, but probably not the only one that could inspire others.
The 275 graduates at the Nova Scotia Community College’s graduation ceremony in Stellarton probably all had untold stories that encouraged, challenged and pushed them to this particular day where success came in the form of an 8x11 piece of diploma and a long-awaited hug from proud parents, siblings or loved ones on the sidelines.
Bill Davidson, a middle-aged man with a young family, received one of the biggest cheers from his four-year-old son Gabriel as he crossed the stage to get his diploma.
He had worked lumber jobs for years before his wife finally encouraged him to a chance and “put his nose in a book.” He graduated of NSCC’s plumbing program, but as fate would have it, his new-found skills require him to seek employment away from his family.
He will fly to Grand Prairie, Alta., Saturday, so tears of joy during the graduation celebration could soon turn into tears of goodbye.
But that didn’t stop Gabriel from telling everyone sitting around him that “his dad is going to walk across that stage soon.”
The school gymnasium was bursting with pride as instructors hugged and shook the hands of students for jobs well done while parents and friends pointed their cameras towards the stage to mark special occasion.
There were signs of relief from students, signature dances of joy from others while some fought back tears as they looked out into the crowd for a familiar face.
Pictou Campus Principal David Freckelton encouraged the students to keep their optimism they felt on this day by giving back to their community, sharing their new-found knowledge and remaining positive in even the darkest of days.
He said there are three “community viruses” that the graduates should avoid at all costs. They are: someone else can do it virus, I don’t have anything to offer virus and the most dangerous virus of all… I see the glass half empty, not half full.
“Even though Pictou County received bad news on the labour front, our graduates are getting jobs,” he said, adding that employment opportunities are on the horizon for the area at the new correctional facility, DSTN, medical marijuana manufacturing, shipbuilding contract and private entrepreneurship.
“People are still obtaining jobs in Nova Scotia and people are still obtaining jobs in Pictou County. You need to be tenacious. We need to change our attitude. Take the skills you learned and make this a better place,” he said.
His words were not lost on 21-year-old Emily Oakes who hobbled to the graduation ceremony on crutches after breaking her ankle a few days ago.
Fresh out of high school, she took the first year of a human services course at the Pictou Campus a few years go, but decided the program wasn’t for her.
Instead of giving up, she worked for a year and refocused on her education again to complete the college’s office administration program.
“I liked it a lot better,” she said as she sat in the empty gymnasium with crutches by her side waiting for her fellow graduates to arrive. “I am working now. I started Tuesday. I wanted to get a course and work for a while. My goal was to get a full-time job.”
The Nova Scotia Community College boasts that 86 per cent of its graduates are employed a year after graduating and 83 per cent are in jobs linked to their studies. It also states that 94 per cent of the employed graduates are living and working in Nova Scotia.
There was little doubt Friday as graduates filed out of the gymnasium with diplomas in hand and smiles on their faces that what it offers has the ability to change lives and make the province’s workforce stronger.
In the end, it really doesn’t matter what got these graduates there. It might be an inspirational grandmother or a second chance, but as Henley pointed out to her fellow graduates, what is more important is what they have all become.
“We have changed and focused on what we envisioned for our ourselves to be,” she said. “We have been preparing for today and our moment of achievement.”