Home Sweet Second Home

    How my family’s campus roots added meaning to my education

    By Winston Pei, ’94 BA, ’02 MA on December 8, 2017

    The U of A has been like my family’s second home since before I was born.

    In 1968, my dad, Charles Pei, ’75 MAg, settled into a carrel in the General Services Building as a graduate student from Taiwan studying in the Department of Rural Economy. His then-fiancée, Caroline Shueh, ’82 BEd, (later, Caroline Pei) followed him to Edmonton a year later, also settling into the same building, first as a secretary, then as a student in computing science.

    New to Edmonton and with no family in Canada, my mom and dad were married in a celebration arranged by new friends from the local Chinese community, as well as students and faculty from the university. Dad’s new best friend and fellow student, Will Pattison, ’67 BSc(Ag), ’70 MSc — who had recently married Marion Pattison (Swanson), ’68 Dip(Nu), ’69 BSc(Nu) — even lent his in-laws to my dad as parental stand-ins at the wedding. It was a role “Grandma” and “Grandpa” Swanson gladly took on and they made it clear it wasn’t just for the day; it was a full-on adoption. It wasn’t long before my parents decided to make Edmonton their permanent home.

    Coming to campus as a student nearly 20 years later, I felt as if I was rediscovering my roots. As the child of immigrants, I drew a deep sense of belonging from knowing that my father had walked these same halls, that my mother had combed through these same library stacks. I could remember playing in the student lounge of the Humanities Centre with my little sister when our parents lacked child care and had to bring us along to class. Walking the campus, I smiled at the tropical plants, knowing that my mom had snuck cuttings from many of them to fill our home with an eventual jungle of houseplants. While doing research in the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library, I discovered the old card catalogue and looked up my dad’s graduate thesis by name, title and faculty.

    Just as it had for my parents, the university connected me to a community and expanded my family. The student orientation program quickly became more of a lifestyle than a volunteer job. The Gateway became my home away from home and launched my career in communications and technology. And I met Jacqueline Knowles, ’93 BA(Criminology), ’99 MEd, ’03 PhD, (now Jacqueline Pei) with whom I would raise our three amazing children.

    Even though much of my student life happened within the Students’ Union Building, I always felt as if my roots were next door at the General Services Building where my dad once made a carrel his home. And wouldn’t you know it, a few years after graduation, I returned to campus to work for what was then known as Alumni Affairs. Not long after I started, our offices moved to the sixth floor of GSB — back to where my family’s U of A story began.

    Although GSB isn’t the prettiest building on campus, the “Pei Family Tower,” as we call it, stands the tallest and brightest to me.