New grant honours memory of first Indigenous woman to graduate from McMaster
From left to right, David Farrar, Aidan Ritchie-Dickinson, Cheyanne Thompson, Cheyenne Tehkummah, Abigail Kelly, Don Lynch. Photo by Sarah Janes.
The description beneath Marjorie Anderson’s photo in the 1935 McMaster yearbook reads, “The sort of person to whom people tell their troubles.”
Eighty-three years after that description was published, Anderson’s son, Don Lynch, says there couldn’t be a better way to remember his mother.
“She was such a kind person. She was always helping people,” said Lynch. “She was a humble, humble person and she helped so many people in big and small ways.”
In 1935 Anderson became the first Indigenous woman to graduate from McMaster. Born in Ohsweken, Ont. in 1913, Anderson, one of 10 children, went to university as a French major at a time when very few of her peers were even considering post-secondary education. As McMaster Associate Professor Rick Monture put it, going to university was “like going to Mars,” for many young Indigenous women.
Now a new grant named in honour of Anderson, who died in 2002, is helping Indigenous students pursue post-secondary education at McMaster.
Established in 2017 as part of McMaster’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, the Marjorie Anderson Academic Grant for Indigenous Students awards up to $80,000 ($20,000 per year) to Indigenous students from the Six Nations of the Grand River or the Mississaugas of the New Credit starting their first year at the university.
“McMaster is very proud to offer the Marjorie Anderson Academic Grant,” said Provost and Vice-President (Academic) David Farrar. “The grant allows us to not only honour the memory of the first Indigenous woman to graduate from our university, but also improve access to post-secondary education for future generations of Indigenous students.”
The four inaugural winners of the grant were honoured Thursday morning at an event hosted by Student Financial Aid and Scholarships and Indigenous Student Services.
At the event, Lynch — who was joined by Marjorie Anderson’s sister, Jacquie Dale, and Monture, another relative of Anderson’s — shared memories and anecdotes of his mother, including a fitting story of how Anderson almost didn’t graduate because her government financial aid was unexpectedly pulled.
“My grandfather went in and spoke to someone at McMaster and the response he got was ‘they can’t do this to us.’ I always liked the emphasis on ‘us’ in that response,” said Lynch. “The financial aid was restored, and she was able to graduate.
“It’s only fitting that it’s come full circle now and students can benefit in her name.”
The winners of the grant — Abigail Kelly, Social Sciences; Aidan Ritchie-Dickinson, Engineering; Cheyenne Tehkummah, Social Sciences; and Cheyanne Thompson, Social Sciences — were selected by a committee of McMaster faculty and staff.
“Our inaugural grant winners are such impressive young people,” said Tracie Long, Senior Associate Registrar: Student Financial Aid and Scholarships. “It is an honour to help welcome them to the McMaster community and we are looking forward to watching their continued growth through their years on campus.”
For the four students, winning the grant has provided crucial financial assistance to help them achieve their post-secondary goals.
“I’m the first person in my family to go to university and without this support I wouldn’t be here,” said Tehkummah. “It’s such an honour to win this grant and I’m just so thankful.”
“I’m really honoured to be here,” added Thompson, who spoke to the powerful experience of hearing Marjorie Anderson’s story. “This really motivates me to do the best I possibly can.”
Lynch says helping students further their education is the perfect tribute to his mother.
“If she were here, she would wish you well and do whatever she could to help you,” he told the four grant winners. “My mother always said, ‘education is its own reward.’ That’s what she taught me and I hope you take to that idea as well.”
Applications for the 2019-20 Marjorie Anderson Academic Grant for Indigenous Students will be available through the Student Financial Aid & Scholarships website.