How I became a 36 year old student with 3 kids. | by Philippe Richer

How I became a 36 year old student with 3 kids.

How I became a 36 year old student with 3 kids.

After learning that at one point, I was a baker at Tall Grass Prairie, Israel has once again asked that I write about my experience. Specifically she wanted to hear more about my time in University after I decided to change careers. As I struggle to find topics for these articles, I conceded.

Job Hunting

After my ex and I separated, I spent a year thinking about my future and the direction to take. I knew that I didn’t want to stay in the sales position I held. I also knew that, while tempting, I couldn’t leave Winnipeg as I shared custody of my kids on a half time basis. For better or worse, I was staying in Winnipeg. During that year, I spent time applying for new jobs in areas I thought would be interesting. At first, I just couldn’t conceive going back to school on a full time basis. I had a mortgage; I had to support my kids. Time progressed, and the job hunt did not yield any interesting results (it turns out that sales skills aren’t all that valued unless one is applying for sales positions).

Considering my options

One day, I met for lunch with an acquaintance who was pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Manitoba. He suggested that I go back to school. After lunch, I returned home and started looking at the student aid provincial website. I read through the material and clicked my way through the process. Because I qualified as a single parent, I could access the maximum funds available of approximately $13,000 a year. This was also during the time of the Millennial fund’s existence at the federal government level, although I didn’t know that yet.


I looked through my finances and realized that all I needed was an additional $1,000 a month and I could make ends meet. That day, in the middle of the summer of 2006, I realized for the first time that I could actually go back to school on a full time basis. I got very excited as I had always wanted to go to university. My mother was university educated (she was pursuing her masters in the mid 1970s, but died from cancer before she could graduate). I had not pursued education because, rather than going to school, I joined the army at the age of 17. It felt like I could finally live up to my mother’s wishes (I remember her telling me that I was going to university when I told her I wanted to be a fireman at the age of 6). This is what she had wanted for me, and it was what I wanted for myself.

I was a baker?!

This revelation occurred in mid-July. A flurry of activity ensued. Once the idea of becoming a full time student took hold, the subsequent dominos fell in rapid succession. 6 weeks later, I started classes. In those 6 weeks, I registered for 24 credit hours at the University of Winnipeg ( I already had a 6 credit hour course that I completed in the mid 90’s); I resigned from Toromont Cat, where I had been a salesman; returned the company truck; found a part-time position at Tall Grass Prairie bakery in Wolseley; borrowed 2 bicycles for transportation; and I developed new strategies for grocery shopping, transportation, and managing the kids schedules without a vehicle.

I’m a Geek

My first welcoming week was in September of 2006 and I was 36. I couldn’t get enough of it, it was exhilarating. I loved going to campus and class so much, I sat at the front (what a geek) and constantly asked questions. My curiosity was hard to satisfy, I even met with profs after class in their offices. It was like a dream. However, in time, the dream became reality. I got used to the new daily routine, and my excitement had somewhat waned. However, I was keenly aware that I was doing something very different and that university is not real life. Eventually, I would be working again. I made a point of enjoying it as much as I could.

It wasn’t all cake and ice cream though. In the first few months, I would wake up in a sweat panicking about my situation. Who did I think I was? How could I go into debt pursuing this crazy idea? I had a mortgage and children, wasn’t I being irresponsible? Now I realize that my identity at the time was so tied up in being a “responsible parent” that going to school conflicted with that deeply held belief. I was having nightmares about it. The first few times I woke up in a sweat, I would sit down in front of the computer and work through my budget. After that, I could calm myself down by working through the budget in my mind. Eventually, as I managed to make ends meet, I realized that I could be responsible while pursuing my newfound freedom and desire to pursue advanced education.

I felt old

During my year at University of Winnipeg, I shared my classes with 1st year students. They were young, idealist, and optimistic (if not a little misguided). When I first attended class, I felt old and out of place. What could I possibly have in common with them? Teenagers, even older ones, annoyed me. To my surprise, these students welcomed me with open arms. They invited me to join them at lunch. I even socialized with time outside of class. Their youth, optimism, and idealism overwhelmed the difficult feelings I experienced as I worked through my divorce. I realized that while I had life experience, I lacked hope. My fellow students overflowed with hope. They provided the antidote to depression and sadness. I credit my time at U of W in particular as a turning point during that period of my life.

Hope and Optimism

Sadly, I’ve run into a few of my former classmates since then. Many of them have now been overwhelmed by life. Their exuberance and optimism have given way to cynicism. Their idealism has been tempered by the harsh truth of life. I hope they can remember what their hope and optimism did for me. Perhaps they’ll have internalized that lesson and eventually find a way to immerse themselves again in that wonderful outlook. I try and do that everyday.

I wrote more about becoming a lawyer here: My Story- Becoming a lawyer.

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