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My Circuitous Path to Renison...and the Journey Beyond

Marilyn CoffmanWhen I was four years old I knew I wanted to be a nurse – not just any nurse, but a pediatric nurse who would train at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. I had spent time there as a patient so my passion for nursing became part of my DNA!

And so it happened! I graduated from “Sick Kids” and nursed there until I married the man of my dreams, an elementary school principal. We subsequently moved to a small community in Bruce County where we became immersed in rural life. Four children later, I was happily involved in fulfilling my diverse roles: wife, mom, nurse, daughter, Childbirth Education instructor, community activist, volunteer, homemaker...

In the late 70s, I was Chair of the Grey Bruce Child Abuse Committee, a group of professionals formed to study the changes enacted by provincial legislation in the reporting by health professionals and educators working with children. It was during this time UWaterloo introduced the first off campus extension classes in this area. The Course being taught by Dale Payne was Introduction to Child Abuse: Identification & Treatment.

I signed up to audit the course, fully intending to sit quietly at the back of the classroom, listening intently to everything Dale said, while learning all I could to become a more efficient and knowledgeable Committee Chair. Such a simple goal!

'Sitting quietly' is no easy task for me! Soon I became a committed student, actively participating in class discussions, doing the assignments, writing the exams....I was incredibly happy to be, once again, learning! Dale was the ideal individual to be teaching “mature” students which we all were. We 'blossomed and bloomed' under his gentle, empowering manner, his wealth of information, and his encouragement for each of us as adults – with kids, day jobs, shift work, aging parents, family responsibilities. Dale, and his Renison colleagues who followed, inspired and encouraged us – significantly impacting the lives of many.

I was 'hooked' on this part-time learning through UWaterloo's off campus classes, correspondence courses on audio cassettes, and summer school in Orangeville. What a privilege and positive experience to continue my education as our children left home for university life elsewhere.

In October, 1984 I graduated from Renison with a major in Social Development Studies (SDS). At this time, I was also being encouraged to consider post grad studies...

In 1985, I was privileged to spend several months nursing the victims of famine and drought in an Ethiopian refugee camp. Quoting Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...” but an unforgettable, life-changing experience for me.

Fast forward to 1987, when I entered Laurier, graduating three years later with an MSW degree. I ended my nursing career when I opened my private practice to provide Individual, Couple and Group Therapy to those seeking another type of healing. Thus began another rewarding journey for me.

Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it's done.” Many times I questioned why I was juggling studies, my job, my family life. But the spark - ignited in 1979 – became the catalyst for my ongoing desire for more learning. I have no regrets!

Life is good for this 80 year old Renison grad! Follow your dreams, even as they evolve along your journey!

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