When Verginia Johnson decided to go back to school, it had been decades since she sat inside a classroom. At 53 years old, she was inspired by her youngest son to take control of her life.
She had been working towards a job in early childhood education when her health took a turn and halted her from any physical labour, resulting in nine years with no job. Her son was working towards his Red Seal in a trades program to open his own contracting business and asked Johnson to help run it. With his encouragement and support from friends, she enrolled into the Career & College Preparation (CCP) Certificate program at Coast Mountain College (CMTN) in Hazelton to get her BC Adult Graduation Diploma so she could be qualified.
“I had become this visibly grumpy housewife and had thought about upgrading to get my grade 12 year done for a while,” Johnson says.
“I used to tell my kids that you’re never too old to learn and now it was time for me to finally take my own advice.”
For months, she pushed herself to learn as they planned for the future ahead. The pandemic hit and she did her best adjusting to virtual classes, but she was not prepared when tragedy struck in May 2020.
Just one week away from receiving his certifications, Johnson’s son was killed in a car accident.
She says she was just coming to terms after losing her two other children, sister and mother all in the last couple of years, and felt she was back at rock bottom again. Taking time off school to grieve, she was hesitant to go back but her son left behind two boys and knew she had to be a strong role model.
“I realized that if I quit now, then my grandkids would look at me and think it was okay for them to quit school too,” Johnson says.
“I told them this all sucks but we have to keep moving, it’s our only choice.”
She resumed her studies the following fall. Johnson says her instructors were very understanding and helped support her through this difficult time. When Tricorp opened their Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurs (ACE) program, Johnson applied and was accepted. Now alongside her classes, she is learning how to run a business as she inches closer towards receiving her Dogwood Diploma.
For Johnson, the most inspiring part about going back to school has been getting to know classmates from all ages who also have faced many struggles. The College has given her a new sense of confidence.
“It’s great, I always thought this was the end when I stopped working… but it makes me happy to see so many of us go back to learn and pursue what we want to achieve,” she says, adding she wants to work again so she can help her son’s family financially.
But amongst all the peer support at school, Johnson says her biggest fans have been her grandchildren. Homework night has become an event she partakes in regularly where they talk about their lessons and help solve each other’s math problems.
“We talk about how far education will take you... and then my grandkids tell me they believe in me and are proud of me,” she says with a smile.
“They tell all their friends that I’m the cool grandma who goes to school.”