Maureen Kelly-Barclay says of her Centralia classmates, “The last time we were all together we rocked shoulder pads and mullets and now we have bifocals and orthotics. But you know what? Mullets are coming back in and so are shoulder pads… we were trendsetters!”
That’s such a great quote! Maureen is on the Centralia College reunion committee and was able to track down most of her classmates for the April 2 celebration of a school that is now closed but undoubtedly expanded the knowledge, friendships and connections of rural youth across Ontario.
After chatting with committee members, I think I missed my chance to go there myself. I think I would have really enjoyed learning about farming or taking the Animal Health Management course to work with veterinarians. However, I was in the mode to escape Huron County and small-town life. I wanted to experience being far from home in the city. So I went to Humber College in Toronto where I soon realized the city was not the place for me. I returned to Huron County with no regrets and an abiding love for farm life.
It was so hard to decide what to do with your life back then, wasn’t it? I see the same stress in my 17-year-old daughter who, hard-working and smart girl that she is, was accepted to every university and college she applied to on courses ranging from veterinary technician, to animal science to environmental science. Not only does she have to decide on a vocation, she has to choose a school. She has to decide whether to venture far from home for the experience or stay within a reasonable driving distance to come home on weekends to be with family and a boyfriend. She has to think about her interests and skills but also a future income to support herself. Or, she could skip school altogether to become an entrepreneur and start her own online business to market products around the world.
Today’s girls are not limited or chastised for dreaming big, for pursuing their dreams or launching high-powered careers. It’s so exciting ... and so overwhelming.
How does one choose who to be and what to do at 17 years of age?
I’m so proud of her but I’m also at a loss to help her. I keep asking questions about what she REALLY wants to do and I can feel her frustration because she doesn’t REALLY know. It’s such a vast world now. She could go to school in Europe. She could travel for a year or take an apprenticeship in the trades. There are jobs in the digital world I haven’t even heard of.
There is so much choice. So many opportunities. So many ideas and options and possibilities.
It’s like walking into a giant Loblaws and leaving two hours later, worn out because all you wanted was some bread, cheese and vegetables but the selection in just those three categories required decisive analysis. Compare that to a friendly Foodland where you can get everything you need in 10 minutes.
I pause here, because I sound dangerously close to complaining when, at this moment, Ukrainian women are fleeing into Poland with their babies. Worrying about too many education options, much less bread choices, is an affront to the plight of our sisters and brothers in Eastern Europe.
It makes me realize what I need to share with my daughter is how lucky she is to have choice. Freedom. Opportunities.
Sometimes in this life, all we can do is take the next step — pick a path and start walking. It may not turn out to be the right path but lucky Canadians that we are, we can stop. Choose again. And start down a different path.
The Centralia graduates did the same back when they graduated in 1980. Some returned to their farms. Some went into business. Others realized the profession they chose wouldn’t pay the bills and went back to school for other vocations. Yet, no matter what path they took, most are keen to meet and connect with their fellow graduates to reminisce about the “good old days”.
My daughter is entering into those “good old days” though she won’t be able to appreciate them until she’s older, like me. I’m excited for her and yes, making decisions is hard. But aren’t we so darn lucky to have freedom to decide? ◊