‘My lifelong dream has finally come true,’ says 85-year-old grad

It was a dream 40 years in the making.

On Monday, June 13, 85-year-old Jacqueline Wilson achieved a goal she’s dreamed of for decades, graduating from Brock University with a Bachelor of Education (BEd) Specialist degree with a focus on special education.

“My bucket list is now complete,” she said. “My lifelong dream has finally come true.”

Wilson started at Brock in 1982 as a part-time student. By 1990, she was just one course shy of finishing her program.

That term, however, the course she needed wasn’t offered and her studies were temporarily put on hold.

During that time, Wilson’s husband began to experience health challenges and her focus shifted. He passed away in 2019 after 60 years of marriage.

A senior woman in a graduation gown and with a walker crosses a stage as people clap in the background.

On Monday, June 13, 85-year-old Jacqueline Wilson graduated from Brock University with a Bachelor of Education (BEd) Specialist degree with a focus on special education.

Wilson still went on to have a successful career in the special education field, but always envisioned a return to Brock to complete her degree.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the timing seemed right.

Heading back to class after a 30-year break wasn’t easy. Wilson had to navigate changes in technology and her own health challenges.

Now legally blind and experiencing post-concussion syndrome, she worked with Brock staff and support services to set up accessibility accommodations.

“Words are just so inadequate to express my sincerest gratitude,” Wilson said of the Brock staff who helped her to reach her goal.

In many ways, the anxiety and stress she felt in returning to school reminded her of the students she championed for most of her career.

“I am a great advocate for children with learning disabilities and multiple exceptionalities,” Wilson said.

In 1985, Wilson was one of two teachers in the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board (HWCDSB) chosen to work with children with exceptionalities after Ontario’s Education Amendment Act required school boards to provide special education programs and services. From the early 1950s to 1980, supports for children with exceptionalities were inconsistent across the province.

A woman with white hair fist bumps a man on stage. Both are wearing graduation gowns.

Jacqueline Wilson, 85, shares a celebratory fist bump with Faculty of Education Dean Michael Owen as she crosses the stage at Spring Convocation on Monday, June 13.

Inspired by this work, and the experiences of a niece with special needs, Wilson went on to become a general learning disabilities class teacher, special education resource teacher, speech correction teacher and assessment remediation teacher before retiring in 1997. In total, she taught for 24 years and spent 16 of those in the special education field.

Wilson began her career as a teacher with the HWCDSB in 1954 at the age of 17. The following year, she was teaching a class of 40 elementary students. At the time, teachers were not required to have degree. Instead, Wilson had completed Grade 13 and a one-year teacher education program.

Wilson’s dedication to helping children with exceptionalities drove her to pursue a BEd at Brock with a focus on special education. At the same time, she also completed a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology at McMaster University.

“My family was extremely supportive,” Wilson said of her husband and four daughters, three of whom followed in her footsteps to become educators, including one special education resource teacher.

Wilson continues to advocate for more special education supports and parental involvement, and encourages fellow educators to have compassion and empathy for the struggles of children with exceptionalities.

“Early identification, intervention and implementation are critical,” she said.

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