Friday, October 1, 2010

40 after 40: Wolfgang Roosch

Douglas College after 40 Years - some personal reflections

September 1970, I am 23 years old and on my daily afternoon hike to Cariboo Hill School, a good half hour from my room in Burnaby. Why am I heading there? Douglas College’s very first term of operation – and my life as an academic student - started without a campus! Out in New West at 8th and McBride there’s isn’t anything remotely resembling a place of learning! Some public school apparently has to pitch in. Is this what I came to Vancouver for, and to Canada for that matter?

The New Westminster "campus" is the early 70's.

Back in the summer of ´69 I said farewell to my native Germany, burdened with a messed up school "career", but with a technical trade to my credit. Working in Edmonton, night courses in English and other subjects, surviving -54 (°F), then word of future Douglas College even reached the Prairies. Soon I was off to longed-for Vancouver, application, friendly staff, all new in their roles, mature entry, no hassles. Am I dreaming? Finally, the chance to turn my life around! Literature, Philosophy, maybe Psychology, who knows.

So, as soon as the Cariboo-kids were out, our college day started. Classes were shortened in order to cram the whole schedule in. At first the whole situation felt like a let-down, but soon a very special spirit emanated, the Indian summer, late afternoons, twilight-times, all these new faces, hard to tell who was student, who was staff. Everyone wanted to get to know everybody else. Never was it easier to talk to everyone you wanted. There were no veterans, no blasé seniors, no profs past their prime... Sure: there were some straights, but far more ”freaks”, it was year one after Woodstock!

Wolfgang in the 70's
What followed were two years of serious study and a lot of fun and inspiration. Many names – students and faculty - still stick out in memory. Faces and situations drift by: There are Joe Kowalski’s introverted yet penetrating monologues on the supreme importance of understanding history. And Charles Marxer’s structured and lucid approach to Philosophy, he liked my notion that the universe is a work of art (an idea I had picked up somewhere). Ulrich Schaffer, the German poet, was champion of European literature, backed by quick-witted Wendy Terell and cosmopolitan Sabine Mabardi. Anthropologist Dave Jongeward gave fascinating accounts on Navaho religious practice and rainmaking. The McAslan-couple spiced their Art History lectures with literally hundreds of slides from around the world. There was the environmental intensity of Jim Sellers and the outstanding biological teamwork of the troika Gilgan-Milles-Patterson. Every week they came up with humorous multimedia-intros (filmstrip+cassette tape!) to the biology lab sessions, these guys were way ahead of their time!

Yes, the opening years at Douglas remain something special in my life. And it didn’t take four decades to realize that. I became aware of it already when I moved on to another educational institution, high up on a hill. It went OK there for me too, but something wasn’t the same. I never quite found the intensity and lustre of the College years again. Douglas proved to be a hard act to follow.

According to Goethe there is magic and bewitchment in every new beginning. This is surely one reason why many of the "original" students think so highly of their Douglas College experience. Four decades later one cannot reasonably expect any of that magic to be around still. But maybe some of the energy has helped to create that solid and inspired dedication to quality education . .

Happy Birthday Douglas College, Live Long and Prosper,
Hartwig Wolfgang Roosch
Gothenburg, Sweden
Associate of Arts 1972

40 after 40 is a series showcasing our amazing grads and employees in celebration of our 40th anniversary. Check back every Wednesday and Friday for another inspiring story. See more about our 40th on our Anniversary page.