Thompson Rivers University

Learning their lives to the fullest

June 24, 2020

Lyn Richards working on her UREAP project and Harmony Bercar in her convocation photo.

After more than five combined decades of successful careers, two mature learners who hit the books again made their mark and were honoured at spring convocation.

Harmony Bercar left a challenging career in the tourism industry for a Practical Nursing Diploma—something she knew would give her a chance to help people. She not only celebrated at convocation, she addressed her class as valedictorian.

Lyn Richards retired from a stimulating and rewarding career in clinical psychology to take a deep dive into a longtime interest in visual arts with a few courses. She just graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and medal for her outstanding work.

These two graduates are strikingly different, but their stories have a common thread: they both believed in their own potential and reached even higher. Richards and Bercar prove that no matter where you are, or what you want to do, you can succeed with lifelong learning.

Harmony wanted to help people

Bercar has a long history with TRU. That relationship started when she received her Adult Dogwood Diploma through the University College of the Cariboo in 2000. She was hired at a fishing resort, which led to a general manager position and then to an assistant lodge manager of a heliskiing operation. Bercar enjoyed the industry and working with people, but craved a more sustainable and secure career where she could thrive until retirement. She returned to TRU for the Health Care Assistant program and loved the stimulation so much she opted to earn a Practical Nursing Diploma. So it should come as no surprise that now she intends to continue on to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Although she didn’t plan on being in university for so long, Bercar realized once she began, she relished the challenge. When doors started opening, she saw more possibilities and knew she wanted a career as a registered nurse.

Adulthood tends to present different realities, especially around finances. Bercar is deeply thankful for the many ways she was received financial assistance for university. She’s grateful to Reta Langlands of TRU Williams Lake, who encouraged her to apply for bursaries.

She earned four:

  • TRU Grit scholarship 2018
  • Atlantic Power Corp bursary 2018
  • Old Age Pensioners of BC bursary 2018
  • Old Age Pensioners of BC bursary 2019

She also earned money by participating in work-study in the nursing lab. When she was considering re-skilling, she approached WorkBC (provincial jobs resource), who funded her entire Health Care Assistant program. She’s also looking forward to StudentAidBC’s BC Loan Forgiveness Program, which allows health-care program graduates who work in underserved communities a certain amount of loan forgiveness.

“I had never thought about going back to university. My mom and I get to talking and still can’t believe that I’m a nursing student! It sounds cliché, but it’s really never too late. There are so many of opportunities out there,” she says.

Watch Bercar’s valedictorian address (she begins speaking at 29:00).

Lyn wanted to create artwork

Richards’ return to post-secondary was fueled by an artistic interest that she never had the time to fully pursue. Over the years, she would buy art materials with good intentions, but didn’t have time to truly dive in. Once she began downsizing her busy practice in clinical psychology—specializing in areas like brain injury, psychological trauma, youth forensics and geropsychology—she finally had the time.

She had no intention of earning another degree when she started taking courses in TRU’s Visual Arts department in 2012, but she soon made close friendships with three fellow students—mature women in the same department—and they were all serious about creating art.

“I have never really been academically goal-oriented; I’ve always just done what was in front of me. But my friends encouraged me to finish my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. People often do form friendships that are lasting in university, but these are special individuals, and all really talented artists,” she says.

The gang was four-strong, consisting of Richards, Elizabeth Sigalet, Susan Miller and Carol Schlosar. Miller and Schlosar drove in together from Sicamous, the three-hour round-trip drive proving their work ethic and dedication.

“Those two probably missed fewer classes than other students who lived in Kamloops! Mature students bring a lot to the table, and one thing is a strong work ethic from previous careers. That’s something the faculty commented on, as well as our fellow students,” she says.

After several years of just taking a few courses each semester, Richards was held to the same challenging standard as other Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) graduating students. All fourth-year students are expected to take on a full course load. Richards also assisted with life drawing sessions, mounted a photography exhibition and volunteered for BFA graduating exhibition openings.

Richards also blurred the line separating art and research, which gave her licence to create an impressive work that incorporates audio clips about forests with three-metre-tall trees covered in knitting and felted wool that are illuminated using programmable LED strings and microprocessors. She was awarded an Undergraduate Research Experience Project grant to produce the unique work.

Now that she has time to spare, Richards fills it with art. Her advice for anyone else wondering what they should do after retirement?

“Perhaps they should give visual arts courses a try—it’s a wonderful experience. I know baby boomers who have retired who have nothing to do, who complain of boredom and lack of meaning and purpose in their lives. But, why should you be bored when there’s so much to do in this world?” she says.

With convocation wrapped up, Richards is already busy arranging a directed studies course in video. Beyond that, she’s also got her sights set on a Master of Fine Arts.

“I think learning keeps you alive. I won’t say it keeps you young, because I don’t think we should idealize youth in the way that is so common in contemporary culture. Many good things come with age, like wisdom, and it just feels good to keep growing,” she says.

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