Campus Life

Creating an educational legacy

Constance Sheriff grew up in a home where her parents were both teachers, so it comes as no surprise that she followed in their steps as a life-long supporter of education.

Constance, a current U of L graduate student pursuing an individualized multidisciplinary masters of arts with a focus in kinesiology, also works at the Lethbridge College library. Her husband, Dr. John Sheriff, is a professor of statistics in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at the U of L.

In their positions, they work closely with students and are keenly aware of the financial struggles many students face while pursuing post-secondary education.

"When I do the math in my head – calculating how much tuition is, how much a student is likely to make in the summer and what other sources of financing are available – I know a lot of students are getting through university only by accumulating debt," John explains.

It's a reality that Constance has encountered as well.

"In my workplace, I've talked to a couple students who say they can't come back next semester because of finances," Constance says. "It's really tragic when you hear that."

For Constance, the issue strikes a chord close to home.

"When I was growing up, my parents would tell stories of how difficult it was for them to afford to go to university; every semester was such a struggle for them. Neither of them would have been able to go if they hadn't received bursaries – they just didn't have enough money," she says.

With the support they received from bursaries, Constance's parents completed degrees in education, and Constance's father, George Douglas Thompson, went on to spend the next 33 years teaching history at the only high school in Wallaceburg, Ont. As a seventhlevel teacher, then the highest provincial ranking for teachers in Ontario, Thompson was asked to move into administration numerous times, but always declined because of his love for the classroom.

Constance recalls that when she was living in Toronto, her parents would often visit from Wallaceburg and inevitably they would run into a former student of her father's.

"It didn't matter where we went – it could be a grocery store, the art gallery, a museum, really anywhere – someone would rush up and say, 'Oh Mr. Thompson, do you remember me? I had you as a teacher, and you made such a difference in my life. I always remember what a wonderful time I had in your class.' Wallaceburg was a very small town, so to actually run into someone in Toronto who my dad had taught was unlikely in and of itself, and his students always said the same thing about his influence on their lives."

When Constance and John learned about Supporting Our Students, an internal campaign to raise money for student awards, they knew they wanted to contribute. After deciding to establish a bursary, they chose to name it in memory of Constance's father, who passed away in 1997 after a battle with Alzheimer's disease.

"Teaching was such a focal point of my dad's life. In light of the financial struggles he faced to get through university, naming the award after him, to recognize his life, was such a natural fit," says Constance.

While John and Constance hope the award will help students along in their educational journeys, John explains that they're also playing a part in a much greater legacy.

"The nice thing is, that at least to some degree, by having a bursary set up in Doug's memory, he is still impacting students' lives. Yes, it's in a different manner, but there will continue to be a positive influence on people's lives through education."