Mrs F.N.G. Starr
I’m feeling pretty good about myself these days. Earlier this week, on Guyanese Indian Arrival Day, a friend informed me that Three Miles Secondary School on Potaro Road in Bartica, Guyana, had created a “Wall of Fame” for Guyanese people of Indian origin, and that I had made it onto said wall:
That’s me in the top left. Next to me is my my friend, journalist/author Gaiutra Bahadur, and below me is another acquaintance, professor/author David Dabydeen. Also represented are Cheddi Jagan, Shridath Ramphal, Bernadette Persaud, Shivanarine Chanderpaul and Terry Gajraj.
Also this week were published two interviews with me, by the alumni magazines of my two almas mater. The first is published in Western University’s Gazette. And the second is with the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine magazine, all about science fiction.
All of this got me thinking about my undergraduate experiences at the University of Toronto. As a poor immigrant kid, it was extremely useful that I’d received an annual scholarship from Victoria College, which was my administrative home. See, the Faculty of Arts & Sciences of U of T is divided up between several colleges, many of which used to be independent universities themselves, back in the day. Those colleges set their own tuition rates, their own admission standards, offer their own specialized classes, and handle all the administrative services for their students, including collecting tuition and all registrar services.
Being a scholarship winner brought with it some perks, including being invited to regular elitist social events, such as formal dinners and networking opportunities. I have vivid memories of Northrop Frye himself attending those events, even sitting with the students and talking to us about nothing in particular. Of course, none of us knew –at the time– of the public stature of this great man, even though the hall in which these events took place bore his name.
(If you don’t know who Northrop Frye was, I urge you to read a bit about him. He was a great Canadian and a decent man.)
I received the Mrs. FNG Starr scholarship, which was a financial lifesaver. It was given to me for my high marks in secondary school. My GPA plummeted in second year of University, but I barely made the cut to retain the award. In third year, my average was not salvageable, and I lost the scholarship. It was a brutal blow that forced me to go further into debt, that magical dark word that so many students know too well.
(I remember unhappily walking past Northrop Frye Hall one cold night, hearing the revelry inside during a scholarship networking dinner… knowing that I was no longer welcome to attend, as I had fallen from the ranks of the scholastically privileged.)