The Face of a Century

    It was an intriguing idea: choose one grad from each year since the University of Alberta started awarding degrees. The result was a story big enough to fill a century.

    By Lisa Cook on December 12, 2014


    What does 100 look like? Over the past year we’ve discovered that it looks like volunteers and entrepreneurs, artists and inventors, academics and committed community members. One hundred ranges across continents and areas of expertise — but in the end it tells a surprisingly cohesive story.

    In honour of the University of Alberta Alumni Association’s 100th anniversary, the New Trail team decided to feature one representative for each graduating class starting from 1911, when the first degrees were granted. It was an exciting idea and an overwhelming task: how do you choose 103 people from more than 260,000 University of Alberta graduates? And once you have your list, would people even want to participate?

    As it turns out, we were amazed by the generosity of those asked to take part in this year-long project. From the staff and alumni who volunteered to sit on our selection committee to the graduates who carved out the time to sit for our photographers, every last person was gracious, enthusiastic and humble. We’re grateful that so many made the time to help celebrate this amazing community of people.

    In selecting the few to represent the many, we strove to make the entire list representative of our alumni community. Ninety-three per cent of our alumni live in Canada, with 75 per cent of them living in Alberta. Education, Arts and Science are the faculties with the most grads. Our alumni are heavily involved in volunteer work and public service. Additionally, we sought to strike a balance between outstanding grads whose achievements are well-known and outstanding grads whose accomplishments might not be recognized beyond their families or communities.

    You can dive in and read each person’s story or page through to see the meta-stories: the early years, filled with so many accomplishments on a global scale, and notable for their firsts for women and minorities; the mid-20th century in which Alberta became a leader in energy; the emergence of environmental awareness in the ’60s and ’70s; and the increasing diversity of our population in recent decades.

    You will also find some graduates whose stories we highlight because of what they show us about our larger story: the international student who stayed in Alberta to serve an at-risk population; the advocate for disabled people; the science grad who found fame with The Simpsons; the unsung hero who spent her life putting others first; and the lifelong learner who is turning 100.

    As we went through this list, it was hard not to feel a little overwhelmed by the accomplishments of our graduates. Certainly, boiling their life stories down to one or two sentences was an extremely difficult task. But these people allowed us into their lives in an incredibly personal and genuine way. Our alumni are funny and warm and joyful and generous, and that is reflected in these photographs in a way that could never come across in a summary of their accomplishments. This has been a singular experience for us, and we hope you share that feeling of awe and celebration as you look through The Face of a Century gallery

    While Aileen Harmon, ’32 BA, of Mill Bay, B.C., is not the oldest grad featured in this issue (that honour goes to 1934 representative Isabel McRae), she is the alumna from the earliest grad class that we were able to photograph for this project. This earliest living grad is a native of Banff, Alta., where her knowledge of trails and local flora and fauna — plus her acquaintance with outfitters, guides and scientists — helped her compile Banff’s first nature guides. For 25 years, in increasingly senior roles, she drove the naturalist information and communications of Canada’s mountain parks.