Karen Wang / Graphics Editor

The first things I noticed about Peggy-Anne when I met her on orientation night were her twinkling eyes and her radiant smile. Jet-black hair, pearly white skin and rosy cheeks, she appeared to be in her fifties, but she spoke with the energy and exuberance of a five-year-old. Her smile lines gave the effect of effervescence instead of old age, her shrunken physique a sense of childish vivacity rather than fragility. As she introduced herself, her voice bounced off the walls and her legs – too short to reach the carpet – kicked in the air emphatically.

Peggy-Anne is one of eighteen participants of McMaster University’s Voicing Hamilton Discovery Program this year. In step with Patrick Deane’s Forward With Integrity initiative to strengthen intercommunity relationships, the program offers a twelve-week course on the history of Hamilton to local Hamiltonians encountering barriers to education.

“I just want to learn,” Peggy-Anne said simply as to why she signed up for the program. The genuine desire to learn defined the energy at our weekly Saturday classes and is what I find awe-inspiring as a Support Team member of the program.  This array of adult students – despite differences in age, background and enduring difficulties in life, whether monetary, linguistic, cultural or medical – all share the simple excitement to engage in a purely educational environment.

At the graduation ceremony four months after we first met, Peggy-Anne recounted her struggle in entering an academic setting as a big, scary step; one that she is ever so glad she took. Having led a difficult life, it wasn’t until a decade ago that she recognized herself as a victim of family violence and childhood sexual abuse. The program gave her a newfound confidence and a sense that she is allowed to have a voice, to take up space.

The program isn’t just about the spirit of learning, or the history of Hamilton for that matter. It is an opportunity to reach out and make connections; it is about searching for a sense of self and identity. In short, it is about finding your place in society.

Every Saturday morning Peggy-Anne comes to class bearing Tim Horton’s coffee and breakfast for herself and Lina, another student that she has grown close to. Through discussions on local activism and controversial topics, despite occasional opposing opinions, the class members have shown tolerance, respect and intelligence. By sharing stories, ideas and inside jokes, the class of the Discovery Program has become family.

As university students, we have become sheltered in our university life. Often at 2 a.m. when an essay due the next day is still waiting to be started, I wonder ironically why we often feel trapped in this system of deadlines and morning lectures and where our sense of adventure and excitement is that the students of the Discovery Program effortless find in learning.

“Why we are all here?” I often find myself wondering about the mass of students in lectures and tutorials waiting for the proverbial bell to ring, the students who join clubs to fill resumes (we all do it). I am talking about myself, my roommates and the many people I see around campus.

I suppose we are here for an education. For a degree. For a future career. Most of us look at school like an assignment, an obligation to check off the grand To-Do list of life. I realize that in the path of finding a future, we’ve lost something important in the present.

We are becoming robots in an educational system. Yes, we are students. But before that, we are members of larger communities – the McMaster community, the Hamilton community, the global community. We need to remember that.

I am grateful to the 18 creative, intelligent, resilient people who have reminded me of this by sharing their stories and their presence.

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