First graduates proud to be a part of history

It was a much smaller class that crossed the stage, but when the University of Lethbridge held its first convocation ceremony, 45 years ago, a tradition of pride was born.

On May 18, 1968, the U of L celebrated its first graduating class with a special ceremony at Southminster United Church. Alums John Pearson (BASc '68) and Sharon Swihart (BEd '68) are two of the 32 graduates who received their degrees that day, an accomplishment that is a source of pride and honour for both.

"What struck me about that day was when I put the graduation mortarboard on my head; I knew I was graduating then," says Pearson, who now lives in
St. Albert, Alta. "The most significant part of that day for me, however, was when they put that degree in my hands. That was definitely the highlight; that was what we had worked so hard for. It is not very often that a person gets to take part in history and that is what that day was, a groundbreaking and history making moment. I am very happy to have been a part of that."

1968 Convocation
The University of Lethbridge first graduation class from 1968.

Both Swihart and Pearson graduated from high school in 1965 and began their post-secondary degrees at the Lethbridge Junior College university section on the college campus with the understanding that an independent University of Lethbridge was well on its way to becoming a reality.

Swihart worked toward an education degree but later transferred to the University of Calgary to complete her student teaching, which was not yet available at the U of L. Despite being in the early stages of development, things progressed quickly at the University and with the courses she needed coming to fruition, Swihart transferred back to complete her final year of education at the
U of L.

"I really loved attending the University of Lethbridge. It was enjoyable every day. We had classes in trailers out in the middle of what was essentially farmland, so the wind was a big factor. It was interesting getting in and out of those trailers every day," laughs Swihart. "I liked all my professors; it was nice that they knew who we were; both staff and classmates were lovely."

For Pearson, the decision to study biological sciences at the University was an easy one.

"Science was always an interest of mine and one of my best subjects in school. The University of Lethbridge offered the right program for me. I was interested in wildlife biology at that time and was able to do part-time work for Alberta Fish and Wildlife while I was a student. We did game checks and surveys for them through our connections at the University. I also worked in the biology department in my graduating year and I remember we pulled a prank and let out some of the baby chicks who were there as part of a study. We let somebody else try to scramble around to pick them up," recalls an amused Pearson. "I have nothing but good memories of the University."

For the first graduating class, the convocation ceremony was the perfect culmination of their hard work and dedication, a moment in time that is forever immortalized in their hearts and in the history books of the University.

"It was one of those beautiful days that we get here, sunny and warm with no wind," remembers Swihart. "I thought going to convocation was quite a big deal. I wouldn't have thought of missing it. We had worked hard toward getting our degrees and going to convocation was a real milestone. It was the fulfillment of a dream. The ceremony was very individual for us because there were so few of us. It was a very special day and an honour to stand together. I have good friends from that class and I really value the relationships that we made. I am very proud of my classmates, especially those who have made such a difference in education in our community."

She continues to connect to the U of L through various avenues.

"Through the years, I have attended different performances at the University and had the opportunity to watch the University's growth and impact on our community," says Swihart. "Having the University here in Lethbridge is definitely something for us to be proud of."

Pearson agrees, and adds that the University has brought a lot of prestige and brainpower to the city.

"I have really enjoyed reading about the alumni and what is going on at the University as the years have gone on. There have been some real success stories," beams Pearson, who remembers watching his daughter, Kimberly Pearson, receive her master's in biology from the U of L in 2005. "It felt great, and I was very proud, like a circle had been completed."


· Swihart taught school in Red Deer for a few years before moving with her husband back to Lethbridge. She has spent many years as a stay-at-home mom, with their five children

· Pearson is a senior investigator - Air Operations for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. He has worked for many years in various capacities in aviation as a pilot, engineer, aviation safety officer and an accident investigator

· In 45 years the University has grown from a graduating class of 32 to the May 2012 convocation of 1,514 students and is now 34,854 alumni strong

This story first appeared in the June 2012 issue of the Legend. For a look at the entire issue in flipbook format, follow this link.