If you looked up lifelong learning in the dictionary, it could well read "See Jo Gardner."
Gardner started her educational journey in 1947 with a certificate in dental hygiene from the University of Oregon. This spring, she marks another milestone when she graduates at age 72 with a Bachelor of Dental Science.
Gardner will be one of more than 5,000 students receiving degrees during Spring Congregation May 24-29 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.
"I always regretted not having a degree," Gardner says. "It was a personal goal and I wanted to reach it."
At the time she received her certificate there were only two degree programs available, both in the U.S. Thoughts of pursuing further study were put aside when Gardner moved to B.C. in 1949 with her dentist husband.
She worked as a dental assistant until dental hygienics was recognized as a profession by the province in 1952. She became the third dental hygienist to register in B.C., and spent the next 39 years in the profession.
In 1992, after Gardner and her husband retired to Madeira Park on the Sunshine Coast, UBC started its dental hygiene degree program, one of only two in the country.
Gardner signed up.
Travelling almost three hours each way and going through a tank of gas every week made Gardner a valued customer at the ferry terminal and the local gas station, she says.
While getting to campus may have been a challenge, Gardner was on familiar territory once she got here, having taught part-time in the dental hygiene diploma program from 1968 to 1986. Faculty members with whom she had taught were now her teachers. Her former students were now sharing classes with her.
"In some classes they called me Mum," Gardner says.
The program Gardner graduates from was specifically designed to accommodate returning students who already hold a diploma and want to upgrade their skills. As many of them are juggling home, family and work commitments it's intended to be flexible, offering both part-time and distance study.
"By her example, Jo has eliminated any excuse for people who say they're too old to go to school." says Asst. Prof. Bonnie Craig, director of the program.
"Not only that, she is a living history of our profession," Craig says. "Jo is known nationwide as one of our founding members."
Gardner helped draft the constitutions of both the B.C. and Canadian dental hygienists associations and was one of the first presidents of both organizations. She also served on the executive of the International Federation of Dental Hygienists.
Gardner credits her husband and daughter with giving her the support she needed to complete her degree.
"No education is wasted," she says. "It's stimulating and gives you a new outlook."
Now she has her degree, Gardner intends to put it to use volunteering to teach dental care to a senior citizens' group.
This year's Congregation ceremonies include 23 separate ceremonies spanning six days from Sunday, May 24 through Friday, May 29. Ceremonies on Sunday, May 24 will be held at 1:30 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The remainder of the ceremonies take place Monday through Friday at 8:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Degrees will be conferred on students from 12 faculties. Eight honorary degrees will also be given.
Graduates contribute to community