In Praise of Perseverance

Do you remember that time when you were five and you fell off your bike and the cut on your knee was so very painful that you felt like you might be in dire need of a priest? Or what about that time when your anxiously waiting hands received a test back from a teacher who looked like she was about to faint from disappointment? And you'll never forget that time when you made every effort to cook the best stew for your spouse, only to have him say that it didn't taste like his mother's (that really happened in Freshwater and the stew ended up in the yard)! We've all had them... moments of despair and torment when we genuinely felt like giving up and lying down.

I clearly remember such a moment during my first year at MUN. I had bravely enrolled in my first university math class, not feeling overly confident yet knowing that being taught by the esteemed Mr. Hubert McGrath had prepared me to at least try. So I did try. And I got 19% on my first quiz. I thought I was going to pass out, in that giant anonymous classroom looking out over Elizabeth Avenue, when I saw the big red 19 in the top right hand corner.

But then I took a breath and I weighed it all out, counting all the reasons why I was 31 marks shy of even passing. First, and most importantly, I was fiercely lonesome for home. Second, there had been a teachers strike and for my class, grade 12 ended in May, without public exams but with a party on the cross county path in St. Bride's. Finally, I was more of an artist than a mathematician, at least according to the combat boots and long skirt I was sporting in 1994. All of these reasons and more swirled around in my mind to allow some level of comfort with my 19. I called home that evening after 6 for a bit of comfort from Nanny and then Mercia and I proceeded to clean out our pink and white apartment on Neptune Road.

Shortly thereafter, I decided to drop the course and concentrate on doing my other courses well. In the 1990s, this required a trip to the professor to seek permission. As mild and meek as ever, I gently explained that I was dropping Math 1080 and would register the following semester, when I had hopefully grown more accustomed to being away from home. He paused. I looked down. With an authority befitting a Viking king, he told me that my mark in honours math from Fatima was not comparable to that of a student from PWC. He went on to say that his class was a race. Some would finish. Others would not.

I share this story to celebrate the necessity of perseverance, of keeping going in spite of challenges that would and could easily make you give up. I did give up that course and I'm glad I did. The next semester, I made peace with calculus and the semester after, I became friends with Latin and on and on (and on.........) it went until I graduated. Many golden evenings did I spend looking out over St. John's from the library, forlorn and cheerless, wishing I was home. Fast forward ten years to living in Branch. Perseverance. Stubbornness. Hope.

Another story of perservance is being celebrated tomorrow. After being out of school for decades, my brother, John will graduate with honours and as college valedictorian from the Personal Care Attendant program at Keyin College. I remember when he made the decision to return to school and pursue his career at 55. He did it with great trepidation but also with a strong and unwavering sense of hope. Hope, like perseverance, is a great driver. It drives us to push ourselves beyond what others have defined as our limits and do tremendous things.

So, on this first day of December, as we enter the very last month of the year and reflect on what has been and the great things to come, let's do it with our heads up, full of tenacity and pluck, looking ahead at the shiny new year that's just around the corner. Think of the day you got back on the bike, the day you passed the course, the day you finally came home, even the day when, like John, you chose to make a great leap of faith.

And if by chance, you meet someone on your travels like that saucy math professor, think of the witty Mr. John Hennessey, put your best foot forward and say, "Do you know who I am?"

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