He took inspiration—as he waited at the bus stop, with toes freezing on dark winter mornings—from the words of his mother.
"She was always commending me, (telling me to) keep going, keep doing what you're doing, I'm very proud of you."
The graduation of his younger brother, Robin, was his inspiration to return to school in September 2020, and he became an inspiration for his teenage cousin, Elizabeth, who he says was "enthralled" with his accomplishment as she worked towards her own graduation day.
He is 40-year-old Chris Johnston, and he glows with pride as he shares his story of inspiration and hard work and perseverance and frozen toes on the road to his Grade 12 graduation from Manitoba Institute of Trades & Technology (MITT) Adult Education Centres this past summer. And he glows even brighter as he recalls the simple trappings of graduation day.
"It was awesome. I was so tickled pink that I was able to wear one of those gowns and the hat, and I get to keep the hat, and they gave me the diploma (and) my transcripts," says Johnston, who attended MITT's West Broadway campus on Furby Street.
Laura-Lynne Hildebrand, MITT career development services officer, says when adults like Johnston return to school it can be a big inspiration to others—including young people who are still in school.
"For parents, if students who are in school and their parents don't have Grade 12, when their parents do engage in adult education it increases retention for the kids as well," says Hildebrand, citing a 2022 Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report Adult Education in Manitoba: Unearth this Buried Treasure authored by Jim Silver.
The report concludes adult education is "abysmally underfunded" in the province, while at the same time there is a huge need for it with recent counts showing close to 200,000 people having literacy levels "not sufficient to enable them to participate fully in society."
The report also argues that adult education has a key role to play in reconciliation, citing Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair Murray Sinclair who said "education got us into this mess, and education will get us out of it."
"I really believe that as well, because I see it every day in the students I work with," says Hildebrand.
She says MITT sees students of all ages in their programs, which are categorized into post-secondary (diploma and certificate), international and high school.
"It's never too late, right? And it's so much fun to work with adults."
Hildebrand says MITT has eight campus locations--seven in Winnipeg and one in Portage La Prairie. High school courses are free (well, $20 per semester) for Canadian citizens and permanent residents older than 19. Students who have already graduated and need to upgrade for post-secondary can take up to 4 more high school courses for free.
Typically MITT sees more than 800 students in a year, but last year that was down to 450.
"We definitely have lots of seats available," says Hildebrand, adding that registration is open until September 12.
She wants to get the word out and put more bums in their classroom seats, she says, where they will receive quality instruction.
"We do have really fantastic instructors—I hear that from the students every day, that they're just so appreciative of the quality of instruction at our adult learning centres."
Johnston, who says his plans include post-secondary education towards a career in film production, says he appreciated the extra help he got from his instructors, especially in math, to help get him over the finish line.. He says his accomplishment is "still sinking in."
"It just hit me when I graduated, I was like, wow, you know, anybody can do it if I can do it...yes, that there are obstacles and there are things that can stand in your way, but as long as you persevere and keep determined to your goal you will succeed."
To read up on MITT's educational offerings go to mitt.ca
Sean Ledwich, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leaf