Graduation: The Tassel was Worth the Hassle

I came across this catchphrase a few weeks ago as I was looking on Pinterest for graduation party ideas. Putting aside the fact that I was on Pinterest instead of writing my final paper, I paused my incessant scrolling of picture-perfect DIY ideas to consider whether or not this was true in my life.

Cristena Waldner

To give more context, I have been a part-time student at CMU since 2006. For those of you who are not great at math like myself, that’s 12 years! I still have to complete practicum but I participated in graduation on April 21.

For over a decade, I have been taking one or two courses at a time for a double major of a 4-year BA in Social Science—Counselling Studies, and a 3-year BA in English.

Combined with the fact that I am submitting this post on my 30th birthday, I have all the feels!

Since my first day of university, I have become an auntie 4 times over, gone on multiple trips, and have made great memories. But, the last 12 years have not been without sacrifice.

As a student with a physical disability, it has not been an easy road. I was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). SMA is as scientific as it sounds but the main takeaway is progressive muscle weakness. I am in a power wheelchair and the fatigue I experience on a daily basis is unfathomable—even for me, and I have had SMA since birth! I have had to work on finding balance in my life and often have to prioritize school work over friendships and relationships.

Hold on.

Am I planning a graduation party or a pity party? While it may have just sounded like I think school is draining, that is actually far from the truth!

I love university, so much so that I may be addicted to the thrill of learning something new. And don’t even get me started on the adrenaline rush of getting a graded paper back. Academic achievement has always been a passion of mine and I would not have gone to university for over a decade if I didn’t absolutely love it.

Yet, I am not graduating by my own merit. I am dedicated to my studies—almost to a fault—but I could not have accomplished this dream of mine without a few key influencers, starting with my parents.

Cristina Waldner with her parenst -

Being a student with a disability comes with its own challenges, but each of those obstacles were made better because of the tremendous support of my parents. They’ve seen it all, from the highs of me getting A’s on tests I was convinced I would fail, to the lows of the days I felt too exhausted to breathe. They have been my chauffeurs, my cheerleaders, and my distractions when I’m trying to study and they tempt me with watching Jets games. Knowing how much I love university, they have sacrificed so much in the process. I only wish they could get a diploma too because they deserve it!

My reflections on the significance of the tassel came to a head last week during my final class of the semester. While my Psychology prof was giving instructions for the final exam, my mind was preoccupied as I looked around at my classmates. I was struck by the realization that out of a class of 22 students, 19 were women. I could not help but feel in that moment a deep sense of gratitude and privilege at having obtained a university education. Not only as a woman but as a person with a disability, I felt honoured to be a part of something that one hundred years ago would have been unprecedented.

Now, I do not wish to dwell on this because it is 2018 and let’s face it, human rights have a long way to go. The movements of #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #MarchForOurLives have proved this. But it does offer some perspective into the privilege CMU students have in receiving a university education that is inclusive, safe, and full of opportunity.

This atmosphere of connection is in large part due to the faculty and staff who have a genuine passion for helping students succeed. The unwavering support of my family and the dedication of CMU staff have given me the chance to pursue my dreams far extending the classroom.

Cristina Waldner in her graduation gown surrounded by her parents on the day of her graduation from CMU.

So… was the tassel really worth the hassle?

Absolutely.

Cristina Waldner graduated this weekend with a 4-year Bachelor of Arts in Counselling Studies, and a 3-year Bachelor of Arts in English.

 

Finding community and trusting God’s faithfulness

Taylor Prior - Finding community and trusting God's provision

I came to CMU after a year of Outtatown, intending to deepen my relationship with Jesus and live in community.

Not from a Mennonite background, I had a bunch of preconceived ideas about CMU. Frankly, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. But I held onto the idea of community in hopes that it would be as great as everyone said it would be.

A couple of months went by and I was skeptical. I hadn’t found the community I had envisioned. In this moment of doubt I leaned into the faithfulness of Jesus and his provision. I had to come to terms with the idea that things might not be exactly how I envisioned. Perhaps Jesus had a greater plan than I could write for myself.

As I let go of what I thought I needed, Jesus provided me with a group of friends who have both challenged and strengthened my faith. He provided a community of people I can laugh with, worship with, and have meaningful conversations with. 

Taylor Prior - Finding community and trusting God's provision

When I imagined community at CMU, I thought I would just instantly find my place. But it took some effort on my part, and it was something I had to grow into. With a bit of faith and trust, God provided a group of people that have been pivotal in my journey at CMU. They’ve even cultivated my newfound appreciation for the art of dumpster diving!

This past year, my first year at CMU, I have learned the importance of being rooted in Jesus’ faithfulness. And I have felt his abundance through the community he provided.

Through this community, I’m learning what it looks like to love others; to share in each other’s joy, and sit with each other in the moments that suck. Trusting Jesus’ provision has helped me to grow and become part of a community of people that makes CMU feel like home.   

In this new grounding of faith, I have experienced abundantly more than I could ask or imagine. Looking ahead, I remain confident in the good things he has in store.

 

Taylor Pryor is a first year Social Sciences student from Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.

Dive In and Engage: Joining Student Council

Esther Hardy, 2018-19 CMU Student Council President

When I first came to CMU, I wasn’t sure how to get involved. There were so many ways for me to dive in and engage, that I didn’t know where to start.

In my second year, I decided to join student council, and it was a great decision.

Student council has allowed me to develop many friendships, to have a voice in what happens at CMU, and it has allowed me to build leadership and interpersonal skills.

Student council committees work hard to organize and host a variety of events throughout the year. From coffee houses, to volunteer opportunities in the city, there is something for everyone.

Some of my favourite events this year were: Film 60 (a student film festival); Taste the World (international students make food from their home countries); Dance Classes (The CMU Keeks dance group teach a variety of dance styles); and The Great Debaters (a fun evening of student/staff debates).

These events brought people together for evenings full of laughter, good food, and great conversation. They’re part of what makes CMU a great place to be. And they inspired me to get involved at this wonderful school.

As the 2018-2019 student council president, I plan to work with my peers on things that matter to students. That could mean organizing for social justice issues or planning fun events for students.

It is important to me that every student feels that they have a voice, and that everyone feels included in our community. I encourage every student to bring your ideas, suggestions, and concerns to me and other student council members next year. We value what you have to say! 

2017 CMU Student Council

If student council sounds like something you want to be involved in, please check it out. In September, we will be looking for Peace and Sustainability Directors and First-Year reps, or you could join a committee team. Our council is full of brave, energetic, passionate people who have a heart for this school, and we would love to have you join our team!

 

Esther Hardy is 3rd year International Development Studies student from Perth, Ontario. She is also your 2018-19 Student Council President!

From a reluctant start: How CMU shaped my future

Nick Kehler - a Reluctant Start

I won’t lie – I was never planning on staying at CMU. I came in 2013, fresh out of Mennonite Collegiate Institute and I just wanted to play volleyball for a year, maybe two, and then I was going to go to “real” school at U of M.

This reluctant narrative is sort of what defines my CMU experience. At first, I was told of the wonders of CMU. The community, the class size, the opportunity for spiritual growth – it was all going to be awesome! But I didn’t really listen, I didn’t really care. Then, all of a sudden I was doing all these things and they were good.

So the “thesis” as it were (because this is a university after all) would be:

Everyone says it’s good. I didn’t want to, I didn’t think it would be good, and then all of a sudden I was doing it and it was good.

Small class sizes

I was told that classes were small and this was good: I was pretty nonplussed by this. I didn’t really care. Then I realized that this was actually a very good thing (though also a little challenging). I could talk to profs, get advice and all that good stuff. But this didn’t mean things were easy. Yes, I could bounce my ideas off my profs, but they could also stare at my soul and know that I had absolutely not done the readings for that day’s lesson. Also, in a class of 20, Delmar wouldn’t have a hard time noticing me falling asleep in the History of Psychology… not ideal.

Nick Kehler - a Reluctant Start

Practicum

I was told that practicum was helpful. Yikes, I really didn’t have a good attitude about this one. I did mine at Deer Lodge Centre which is a personal care home and hospital and I was doing work assisting occupational therapists and physiotherapists. This sort of work is what I want to do with the rest of my life and looking back now, I realize that this not only was great in terms of me affirming what the next chapter of my life looks like, it also looks pretty good on a resume or application.

Integrative courses

I was also told that integrative courses were awesome: I didn’t want to do them cause they all seemed like lots of work – now I know that these were likely the most unique, eye-opening, challenging, and rewarding classes that I took.

In my Psychology and Christianity course for example, we discussed questions like “are we soul and mind” are we “soul mind and body” or “just body?” Topics like the intersection of psychotherapy and faith were discussed and I came to quickly realize that there is no such thing as differentiating faith and the rest of life. It’s all wrapped together and it’s all super confusing and it’s all difficult and it’s all completely full of truths, half-truths, and caveats to everything that you can think of. This is perhaps the biggest takeaway from being here for the past few years. There isn’t a way to break things apart – things can’t just be categorized. In psychology, the study of human behaviour and cognition and interaction is intricately connected to God, the creator.

So, I was told many things, I didn’t really believe them. I eventually did those things anyways and now, looking back on all of that, I see that I’m a better person for it.

So how has CMU prepared me for life past university? I would say that it’s guided me and shaped me to think holistically – to think about God and people and relationships and research and everything in between, as connected – as influenced by and influencing each other.

 

Nick Kehler is a fourth year Psychology major graduating in April, and is from Altona, MB.

 

Economic justice: Even small changes make a difference

Zach Stefaniuk on fair trade economy - Economic justice: Even small changes make a difference

Use your imagination for a second. You are a young Canadian. You have recently graduated from high school and feel inspired to travel the world. During your travels you come upon an intriguing building. You go closer to investigate. As you approach the building you see it is unusually unstable. There are next to no windows, but you manage to find one. On the other side of this window are bars and endless lines of tables which locals are working at. The locals seem very tired and unhappy. It almost seems as if you recognize what they’re making. Then you realize they’re making your favourite brand of t- shirts. How do you react?

The building I just described is a factory.

Do you know where your clothes are made? Most people don’t know where their clothes or other possessions come from. It wasn’t that long ago that people were more dependent on their local community and their own skills to survive. Now, most everything is made internationally.

The Bible tells us that God wants everyone to be part of an equal economy. In the Old Testament, that meant helping your neighbour with harvest when need be. In the New Testament, the radical teachings of Jesus known as the Beatitudes, say that the Kingdom of God is for the poor – those who are not of high economic standing. 

So what can we, as part of the wealthy western world, do to change this? Becoming aware of our surroundings and how we interact with them, is one step. Understanding how our economic choices impact the environment and people in our community, allows us to rethink which brands may be best for ourselves and other people. 

Many big box stores have a policy to try to match the lowest price, which is great for our immediate needs, but is it great for the long-term needs of the workers in foreign countries?

An alternative is to shop fair trade. Organizations who sell fair trade products, ensure the workers receive a wage that they can live on. When we buy products from fair trade companies, we make a difference. It may be a small difference, but God cares when we make a positive difference.

We can also use more locally sourced products or make more of our own products. There was a time when people would simply make what they needed. These days, many of us have lost these skill, and depend on the rest of the world to supply absolutely everything.

Zach Stefaniuk on fair trade economy - Economic justice: Even small changes make a difference

If you live in a small town, it’s a safe bet that you can find most of the food you need within your community. The same is true for cities. In Winnipeg, there are many family-run businesses, we can support, and probably gardeners and small scale farmers that would be more than happy to share their produce.

Our relationship with products should be more personal. Once these relationships are more personal, we can start to connect with those who make them. There is no doubt that when we build a relationship with the growers and makers of our food and clothes, and other products, we will treat them with more care. Knowing how much work goes into them makes a difference. 

Use your imagination again. How can you impact this change? How will you welcome people into God’s economy of equality?

Zachary Stefaniuk is a second year Biblical and Theological Studies student from Hague, Saskatchewan. This blog post is adapted from a speech Zachary presented at the C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest at CMU.

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