Sunday 3 September 2006

Possibly the oldest active student at UW - Lucien Guillaume

An Atypical Student
Possibly the oldest active student at UW

Lucien Guillaume is atypical in many ways. At 76, he still takes courses every year, some for credit and some for fun. Lucien can be an example to us all of the goals of developing ourselves. He aspires to be learning and growing continuously. That is a role model for anyone.

Mr. Guillaume is no stranger to his 15 minutes of fame. This past spring, he was profiled on the cover of The Record April 29th, 2006, as ‘The Walker’. At that point, in 2 decades, he had walked 76,000 kilometers in 35 pairs of shoes. Mr. Guillaume likes to be organized and has a spreadsheet tracking his walks and the usage he receives from each pair of shoes.

That discipline and focus is also seen in his pursuit of academics. With two degrees from Concordia University, a BA in Sociology and an MA in Educational Technology, he has endeavored to continue his learning throughout his life. He has a long, illustrious career with Air Canada.

After retiring, Lucien and his wife Mary settled in Waterloo region. Mary is a local artist with the Color Wheel, a local group of artists. Mary’s artwork can be seen at: Then Lucien returned to school. Imprint caught up with Mr. Guillaume recently and here is what he had to say.

Lucien, what compels you to continue taking courses here at the University of Waterloo?
In a nutshell: “Inertia”, in line with Newton's First Law of Motion (Every body perseveres in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight ahead, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by external forces). It may be that I abhor a vacuum! When I was working for Air Canada I got used to a lot of traveling. And now, if I do not travel for some time, I feel I am missing something, although I must say that air travel is no longer the pleasant and exciting experience it used to be. Similarly with walking; after participating in numerous Audax walks during the last 20 years, I feel the need to keep on walking, even if I have to do it by myself and do not receive official tokens of recognition. I suppose it is the same with studying - no reason to stop doing it, especially when it gets easier all the time with features such as on-line registration, on-line payments, the Quest and Angel systems, and so on. But, to answer your question, I have to go back to 1998 when we moved to this region and I first registered with UW. The first reason is the acquisition of knowledge and of different points of view. The second is that it constitutes a challenge and provides a discipline. The third is that it happens in a most congenial environment giving the opportunity to interface with a multiplicity of interesting people - students, faculty and staff. And it opens the way to peripheral activities such as those provided by the Clubs. Since I do not study towards a degree, there is no point of closure and the studying becomes a permanent element incorporated into my way of life, together with physical, mental and spiritual activity.

What areas of interest have you studied at UW?
Besides Astronomy, which was a real eye-opener, I have tended to focus on Classical and Religious Studies, Greek and Roman history and societies I found particularly interesting. With the passage of time, these periods are described with a greater consensus and objectivity; their study allows some extrapolation to modern times providing a wider overview, correcting some of the biases which are incorporated in the teaching of modern national history or the reporting of the contemporary media.
If a subject I am interested in is not available at the University, I will look for it somewhere else. Thus, since there is no longer a course in Modern Standard Arabic, I have traveled to Arabic-speaking countries to study there. However, I found out that an intensive course cuts down on my “sociological studies” when I sip mint tea or coffee at café terraces while observing the milieu, so I switched to a less formal approach.

Of the 19 courses you have taken what is your favorite and why?
I would give top rating to SCI238 Introductory Astronomy, taught in
Spring 2000, by Dr Charles Curry. First, it literally expanded my view of the universe from a quasi-static entity to a fascinating process of continual evolution. One of the consequences is that I currently follow closely the lectures given by the Perimeter Institute. Second, the instructor kept our interest with the current developments in our local sky to the extent that I keep on observing what is going on, including the passage of artificial satellites and Iridium flares. I studied hard on that course, especially when I found out that I had to familiarize myself with logarithms, which, for some reason, had never figured in my previous studies and consequently represented a sort of a “black hole” in my knowledge (It has now been promoted to “gray area”). However, since this was the only course I was taking during that term, I had plenty of time to devote to it. I enjoyed that course so much that I decided to take the same one again, this spring, six years later.

What is your least favorite and why?
Under that heading, I would place PSYCH212 Educational Psychology. I had selected that course because, having graduated in Educational Technology, I was interested by the contents. However I soon found out that the course was dealt with at too basic a level for me, which shows that I had made a poor choice! However, even there, I found that I benefited from the experience and gained something from the material presented.

How do you pick your courses?
I look forward, with anticipation, to the publication of the schedule of classes to work on my selection as early as possible. Considering that I might be traveling during the term, I eliminate those courses where a possible absence of a couple of weeks would break the required continuity and have a disastrous effect on my grasping of the subject, e.g. Science or Modern languages. So, (1) I focus more on Arts courses such as Classical Studies, Religious Studies, or Philosophy (limiting myself there to the practical aspects such as Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving, far away from areas such as metaphysics and epistemology). (2) Then comes the phase of personal choice, short- listing courses which appeal to me either because the subject is familiar or because it will bring me a breadth of new perspectives. In some cases I have taken the same course a second time in order to widen my scope of research and find additional depth and breadth. I feel privileged to be able to select courses without being constrained by specific requisites to comply with a degree program. (3) I then look at practical details: (3.1) classes not too early in the morning and preferably not more than twice a week (considering the time required for walking between the University and St Jacobs), (3.2) a class size about 40 to 50 students, since 200 is too big in a large amphitheatre, and 15 is too small a group where I would feel too conspicuous and prominent, representing about 7% of the class.

Imprint has been told that you travel often. What are some of the countries you have visited since being here at UW?
Well, for one thing, I find it convenient to spend some time in Morocco around February each year to get away from the winter snows, which clutter the sidewalks. I have also returned to places such as Turkey, Greece (Crete), Spain (Andalucia), Barbados and the Seychelles. I find it comfortable to return to places I have already visited because they are familiar and I meet again with some friends and acquaintances, and this provides me with a base from which I can expand a bit further each time. I also had the opportunity to spend, for the very first time, a few weeks in the Yemen (Sana’a), which I found culturally fascinating.

What is your favorite place to visit?
While I certainly enjoy the pleasant relaxing atmosphere of a Caribbean holiday, my preference for a longer stay centers on places like Turkey, Yemen and Morocco, because they provide cultural opportunities and the possibility to get acquainted and enter discussions with the local people. It gets me out of the groove and leads me to better understand their viewpoints. It gives me the feeling that I am achieving something concrete within a pleasant atmosphere. But, going further back, I would like to return to Singapore and Indonesia, of which I have fond memories from having spent some time there, working as a consultant. Now, that is exotic! I have met pleasant and hospitable people everywhere I traveled, but I think that the latter were beyond my wildest expectations.

Living in St. Jacobs, you often walk to and from Campus. How far a distance is that and how long does it take you?
I always walk to University and back. Occasions when I have benefited from a ride in either direction have been very few over the past eight years. I must say that there have been a few occasions when I have missed a session because of extremely bad weather. The shortest distance is about 8 kilometres, but I usually take a longer way, like 10 km, to change a boring routine and take a less traveled road. That gives me a return distance of 18 km, equivalent to 3 hours of walking at the speed of 6 kph, which is the standard speed for walks of between 25 and 150 kms, recognized by the International Audax organization in various European countries (and in Montreal) and in which I have participated.

If you could dispense any wisdom to your fellow students gleaned from your years of experience, what would it be?
I believe that we have to remain open to various points of view, take our information from a number of divergent sources, question their possible motivations and agenda, do our own analysis and develop our own opinion instead of accepting what may be the prevailing view at the time.

The search for knowledge, and its distribution, should be internalized as a permanent way of life. Not only is it useful, but also it provides personal satisfactions.

It is important to be proactive and grab opportunities and challenges which provide an opportunity to showcase our capabilities, instead of waiting to be recognized for our intrinsic value, since, unfortunately, most people are not sharp enough to recognize it.

It is important also to have confidence in our own abilities. I remember having been given the opportunity of a promotion, from the field of training where I was professionally competent and highly comfortable, to an entirely different field, not because I had special qualifications for it, but because of my particular approach to work. I only hesitated a short while before accepting, then analyzed what I needed to know and worked on it. I never regretted that decision.

Do you have anything else you would like to share with us?
I believe another version of the world is possible, with Truth and Justice, more equality, free access to education, no restriction on information and communication, and no censorship.

I personally appreciate the freedom to move around as I see fit at any moment and I have a tendency to resent constraints in any form, such as censorship or restriction to the free flow of information or people across artificial borders. I see the need for expanded education so that people can reach their own conclusions on a rational basis and resolve potential conflicts through discussions and without violence. It is important to break out from our local shell and to get acquainted with the happenings in other areas of the world so that we can empathize with people everywhere, not when a particular event is suddenly brought to our attention, but on a continuing basis. This, in turn, should lead to the improved version of our world based on Fairness for all, Truth and Justice, that we can visualize. I believe that my attendance at the University of Waterloo contributes in some measure to the realization of my objectives in that direction.

(This final picture is a painting of one of the many pairs of shoes Lucien’s Wife Mary has painted, called “Honourable Retirement”.)

(First Published in Imprint as ‘Possibly the oldest active student at UW’ 2006-09-01.)

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