A passion for learning is hard to extinguish.
Just ask Susan (Gordon) Lindsay who has returned to school not once, but twice, since retirement.
It wasn’t even the first time that the life of the Chatham, Ont., native took an educational detour.
The first was when she applied to UWindsor’s Faculty of Education after working for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food in Elmvale, Ont., for two years.
“My mother had always wanted to be a teacher,” says Lindsay, “but there were few opportunities for women in the late 1930s and early ’40s. I grew up thinking about teaching and entered the profession to fulfill her dream in a way.”
She graduated with her Bachelor of Education degree in 1973, earning the Dean’s Medal for Academic Distinction.
Most of her career with the Lambton-Kent District School Board was spent teaching grades five and six. Of the hundreds, if not thousands, of students Lindsay taught, one in particular still stands out.
“I had a grade five student who could not understand ‘borrowing’ in subtraction,” she recalls. “One day at my desk, he was working on a question and, all of a sudden, the light went on. I was seated, so our eyes met. I will never forget the astonished look on his face.”
She encouraged every achievement, no matter how small. “What might be insignificant to an adult can be huge for a child.”
Almost four decades of teaching later, the newly retired Lindsay found herself yearning to be on the other side of the classroom equation: she wanted to learn.
“My first choice when I went to university in 1967 was English Literature,” she says. “However, there were few high school teaching jobs then, or so people thought. So, I majored in home economics and science.”
This time around, Lindsay set her sights on her long-ago goal. She consulted with Dr. Katherine Quincy in the University of Windsor English department about what she’d need to do to earn a Master of Arts in English.
She was told she’d need to complete eight undergraduate English courses to qualify for a Bachelor of Arts in English first. She accepted the challenge and got to work.
The change in technology was the biggest hurdle. When she earned her first degree in the 1960s—a BA from Western University—“the typewriter was our mode for assignment completion, and the card catalogue was the only way to find resources in the library. Researching a topic took forever!”
Her son, William, helped usher her into the 21st century academia. “I will be relying on his techno knowledge for the remainder of my university days,” she laughs.
In May 2016, Lindsay earned her honours bachelor’s degree, winning the Board of Governors Medal for highest academic achievement in a repeat of her stellar 1973 performance.
The freshly minted alumna enrolled in the graduate program in English Literature that fall. She’s completed four courses with four to go. “I take one at a time in order to totally enjoy what I am reading and researching,” she explains.
The expertise of the English Literature and Creative Writing faculty and the learning environment on campus have added to that enjoyment. “There are so many occasions to hear poetry and short story readings from known writers and students currently in the Creative Writing section.”
Lindsay considers these readings inspirational—“especially when hearing the works of students I sit beside in class.”
Her return to school has been positively marked by the friendliness of the students in her courses. “People treat me like a peer, despite our huge age gap. Making friends and having a ton of laughs has been an unexpected joy for me.”
A particularly serendipitous moment arose when she ran into a former student on campus whom she’d once tutored, now a fourth-year UWindsor undergraduate.
Relishing her student life experience, Lindsay says she’s indebted to her English professors, Drs. Katherine Quinsey and Suzanne Matheson, along with Liz Fallaise, from the Registrar’s Office, for their early assistance in getting her on track. They helped her co-ordinate her online courses for her honours degree. “I will forever be thankful to these kind and determined ladies.”
After Lindsay earns her master’s, she hopes to take the UWindsor practicum in publishing. “After that, I want to study art history. My dream is to take an art course in New York City one summer after gaining knowledge in the subject here.”
When not focused on her love of learning, she spends time with her son and belongs to “an awesome book club that meets whether we have time to read a book or not.”
She is also secretary of two community volunteer groups and volunteers for such events as the Kiwanis Music Festival. Through the season at Stratford, Lindsay sees most of the plays. “My car knows the route from Chatham to Stratford by itself!”
William Lindsay speaks of his mother’s record of success with pride. “How many retirees complete the requirements for a BA and achieve such a high level of academic success twice in a lifetime?” he asks. “I find that remarkable.”