When Bernard Forster began his studies in 1970, Conestoga was a fledgling post-secondary institution that offered 36 full-time programs in the areas of Applied Arts, Technology and Business & Commerce. The main campus at Doon was comprised of a single fixed building and an array of portable classrooms. The 270 graduates from Conestoga’s first two years of operation made up the college’s entire alumni community.
Today, Conestoga delivers more than 300 full-time programs through a network of campuses across southwestern Ontario, and reaches more than 50,000 full and part-time learners each year. The alumni community now includes more than 150,000 graduates, including recognized local, national and international leaders in industry, technology, health care and community services.
Conestoga graduates are the entrepreneurs and innovators, technicians and specialists who make our businesses strong and our communities better places to live.
One of the college’s earliest graduates, Bernard Forster recognizes the significant role Conestoga played in his career and life success, and hopes that his gift will help support future generations of students.
This is his story.
In his own words - Bernard Forster
Fifty years ago, a naive, poor 17 year-old high school kid from Montreal got on a train - alone but determined - to take an overnight 400-mile trip to Kitchener, Ontario - site of a brand new school. A brand new concept in higher education. A brand new window of opportunity for Canadian students regardless of their socio-economic status. (Tuition was $187.)
That school was Conestoga College and that kid was me. That fateful trip was the beginning of my adult life journey. It was also a wake-up call to grow up and be better prepared once I recognized that the hundreds of other students in the campus conference hall were also there for a pivotal interview that would determine which 22 students would be accepted into the new Broadcasting-Radio-TV program. I made the cut. I graduated in 1974 a testament to the adage that education is the great equalizer. My diploma came with a job offer from the CBC thanks to the recruitment and placement efforts of Gary Parkhill and my mentor instructors. And for the next 25 years I thrived in my rewarding and successful career at the CBC Television Network.
I always appreciated Conestoga College for giving me the opportunity to learn, grow and prosper. But I didn’t really acknowledge how monumentally important the college was in my life until a couple of decades later, when I had dinner with Jim St Marie, the now-retired instructor who interviewed me back in 1970. I wanted to thank him personally for being my television instructor and to let him know that he made a great difference in my life as my mentor. Between the appetizer and the main course, Jim casually mentioned that I was not initially selected following my interview. He personally advocated for me to get the last admission spot when one selected student changed their mind and the 23rd spot opened up again. That bombshell instantly reverberated in my head as I sat stunned, pondering where I would be today had I not been admitted to Conestoga. I was so unsophisticated and naive back then: I didn't even have a Plan B. My short-sighted money-saving efforts were to have money to actually go to college rather than pay multiple college application fees. Right there at the dinner with Jim, I suddenly had an epiphany and mini panic attack as my mind’s eye flashed a rapid succession of distressing scenarios of life without the fortuitous gifts that Conestoga gave me through education, mentorship and opportunity.
Conestoga has become an award-winning famous behemoth of an educational institution serving upwards of 60,000 students each year compared to the 1200 enrolled in 1970. I have never forgotten how important Conestoga is to me: I am part of the college's legacy and very grateful to the school. So grateful, that I want to personally donate $250,019.70. I hope my donation can become a lead gift for a capital building campaign to build a School for New Media or a Centre for Digital Media. Maybe my donation can begin to fund world-class digital media teaching facilities. Maybe my gift can inspire successful alumni to consider planned giving now that the college has taught over 150,000 students who might be as grateful as I am.
Thank you Conestoga College.