Information Radio host Marcy Markusa reflects on Thursday's special day of programming at the University of Manitoba, and some of the students who challenged and inspired her.

What a wonderful day we had broadcasting live from the University of Manitoba on Thursday! It was so nice to be back in University Centre, surrounded by the confusion and energy of the first day of school.

I have a soft spot for the U of M, since I studied there, and I credit the career counselling office with confirming what I had known in my gut for years: that I would do well to focus on journalism.

The U of M is also where my family members became accountants and teachers and where my mom, who didn't graduate from high school, attended as a mature student to prove to herself that she, too, could be a university success.

I remember her pride when she got an "A" on one of her essays.

On Thursday, I found myself challenged by the students. They reignited my sense of optimism about the future, about the city and about education.

There was just something about sitting in the middle of a crowd of young minds who were about to begin the first day of "the rest of their lives."

I was particularly impressed and surprised by moments with two students.

Real opportunities

Jayden McKoy, a first-year engineering student, was asked about making the decision to stay in Winnipeg for school.

Honestly, I half expected him to say that he was here because he didn't get accepted to another university or he was going to leave next year. My incorrect assumption was simply based on stories and statistics that I had read before about young people leaving the province.

Jayden, however, was not one of those young people. In fact, he pushed back at the reasons that people leave.

He said that leaving Winnipeg after high school doesn't really make any sense since you don't even know the city.

He thinks that beyond Grade 12 is when the real opportunity begins to start exploring the city for what it has to offer and what you might have to offer in return, as part of the larger community.

Jayden thinks that bigger cities might seem more vibrant on the surface, but the key to unlocking Winnipeg is to put in some effort to find your fit and your excitement.

I think he is wise beyond his years.

I also think that his attitude described perfectly the "it" thing about our city that keeps us living here, despite all of our collective complaining at times about taxes, urban sprawl and the weather.

Believing in oneself and others

The other student who left a huge impression with me was Sheena-Marie Dubois. The 24-year-old aboriginal student is starting the fourth year of her science degree and has her sights set on medical school.

Her success story, however, may already be written because she very easily could have fallen through the cracks before arriving at U of M.

She said, in fact, that studying is saving her life.


Sheena-Marie Dubois, left, is interviewed by Markusa during Information Radio's special broadcast at the University of Manitoba on Thursday. (CBC)

Sheena-Marie survived a very tumultuous childhood. So how did she end up in the fourth year university with hopes of becoming a doctor?

Sheena-Marie said she believed in herself. However, she also said that mentors, like some of the outreach workers she met in North End youth programs, believed in her as well … and they told her so.

What a lesson in what it takes to thrive in life and in university — just another human being honestly believing in you so you can strive to see something in yourself that seems to be against all odds.

I found it ironic that Sheena-Marie was nervous at first to do the live radio interview, but as soon as she opened her mouth it was clear that her life lessons also included being poised under pressure.

The experience has left me thinking about something: Does university attract students like Sheena-Marie and Jayden, with their positive attitudes and motivated outlooks? Or do these individuals rise to the occasion because they are university students?

Either way, there is no question that the worth of an institution that can give young Manitobans a place to share hope really can't be measured in dollars and cents.