Human Services Program student Angelika Brunner’s Selkirk College journey will end with one of her most daunting assignments yet – being the voice of the Class of 2015.
The mother of two young boys, Brunner returned to post-secondary in September of 2013 determined to make the most of an opportunity to take a new direction in her life. With high praise from her instructors, peers and college staff, Brunner was chosen as the Class of 2015 valedictorian and will deliver her remarks at the Castlegar Campus on Friday afternoon.
Selkirk College Human Services Program student Angelika Brunner will represent the Class of 2015 as the valedictorian at the Graduation 2015 Ceremony on the Castlegar Campus on Friday afternoon.
“I have the benefit of being able to look back over the years and recognize that life throws so many different things at you that you don’t expect,” says Brunner who will be graduating with a Human Services Diploma. “At any point in your life you might have some plans and dreams for yourself, but a few years later those things can completely change and often be even better than you imagined.”
A Student in the School of Life
Brunner grew up in Vancouver and spent some time in post-secondary trying to figure out a direction. Deciding it was the wrong time of her life to pursue school, Brunner instead decided to focus her energy on building a career. She worked many years in the tech start-up industry in downtown Vancouver, where she eventually became an assistant to the senior vice president of a biotech company.
When the company she was working for downsized, in 2005 Brunner decided to escape city life and headed to Winlaw where she had already been establishing roots and developing friendships.
“It was a great education because I was very immersed in city attitudes,” she says. “Though I thought I was open minded and well informed, you don’t know life until you have to chop your own wood and check on your water box so you can just survive. It was far from living in the city where your heat and water get pumped into your house and you send off money for your bill. You are not experiencing a huge chunk of life when you are just living in the city.”
Brunner met her future husband while in Winlaw and was getting set for a future in the West Kootenay when she found out her mother had early onset Alzheimer’s. The couple returned to Vancouver for three years to help the family deal with the challenges of the life-altering disease.
While in Vancouver, the couple had their first child. After a difficult pregnancy, Brunner’s first son was born six weeks premature and she faced serious health problems resulting from the birth.
In 2011, Brunner and her husband returned to the West Kootenay, deciding on Castlegar as their new home. Six months pregnant and with a two-and-half-year-old, Brunner was focused on being a mom. After her maternity leave, Brunner was faced with options of what to do next to help pay the bills. Qualifying for funding through the provincial government, she decided to go back to school.
“As an older student returning to school, I knew that I had to do something meaningful,” she says. “If I am going to be showing up to work every day, it had to be something that I would enjoy personally but also something that contributes to our society and our community.”
Making the Most of an Opportunity
She thought about the Business Administration Program, but instead decided to explore something new and chose the Social Service Work Program.
“I knew this program would be an incredible growth experience and the best learning opportunity,” says Brunner. “Not knowing exactly what I was getting into, it was very eye-opening to actually get in there and start learning. It didn’t take long for me to become fully immersed and excited about it.”
Brunner not only dove into her classwork, but ensured that her college experience would be as full as possible. She became a peer tutor for Psychology and paper writing, she organized an event promoting awareness of violence against women, and she helped organize a fundraiser for the student food bank.
“Looking back, I have no idea how I fit it all in,” she says. “But it has been really important to me that my experience at Selkirk College is not just about me getting an education. Our college is its own little community and I think people really appreciate when others do things to help strengthen their community.”
Two years of classes, assignments and side projects has not been easy. It took an extra commitment by Brunner’s entire family to ensure success.
“Being a mature student, you have a lot of advantages because of your life experiences and work experiences,” says Brunner. “The biggest challenge for me was being a mother. When I started, my baby was 18 months old and I had a son who was three and a real handful. When I was done with my school day, I had no rest. I would pick them up from daycare, make dinner, have some quality time and then put them to bed. After that is all done, you are too tired to do homework.”
Leaving a Mark at Selkirk College
When Brunner walks across the stage on Friday to receive her diploma, it will mark a major milestone in her life and one that will send her off into new directions.
“It’s been completely life changing,” she says of her two years of education at Selkirk College. “It would be a better world if everyone could take this kind of program. It forces you to strip away all your biases and to examine yourself as a person so that you can look upon others with less judgement. To me that has been transformative to all my relationships personally and even if I don’t end up in a social work related job, it is going to be incredibly valuable no matter what kind of work that I do, just in dealing with people and understanding people.”
As she prepared her valedictory remarks, Brunner says she couldn’t help but reflect on what she observed going on in the classrooms and hallways of Selkirk College during her time spent on the Castlegar Campus.
“Being a mother and having two young boys, I see the young people in the college doing so well and being good people… I think that I want my boys to grow up and be like this,” she says. “It’s comforting to know there are so many really amazing young people doing great things… or even just good things. I am hoping that I can steer my boys in that direction as well.”
Though her mother is now in the late stages of Alzheimer’s and will not be able to fully share in her daughter’s tremendous accomplishments, Brunner knows what she would be thinking if she was in the audience on Friday afternoon.
“My mom would be super proud,” she says. “She didn’t get much education herself growing up in post-war Germany, having four children and being an immigrant to Canada. I really picked up compassion from her and understanding of people from her. So even though the academic part for her would not have been as important, she would be proud of knowing that I made connections to people while I was here.”
The Selkirk College Graduation 2015 Ceremony will take place on the Castlegar Campus on Friday afternoon.