Heather Varty made a promise to herself five years ago when she received the first Sharon Hendrickson Memorial Scholarship for Upgrading students. She said she would repay every dollar when she got her first job as an RN. And in May this year, that’s just what she did.
“It’s not about how much money it was,” says Varty, who started in the Upgrading program at the college in 2014 and went on to complete the Nursing Education in Southwestern Alberta program, earning her Bachelor of Nursing degree in 2019. “It’s about what it meant to me, and what it might mean to the next person.”
Varty, who now works as an RN at Chinook Regional Hospital, says making the decision to go back to school as an adult was not easy. “It can be scary,” she says. “You’re making enough money to pay your bills, and it can be scary to give that up and start school. I didn’t know if I was smart enough, or if I could do it.”
But her Upgrading instructors saw great potential in her, and when the opportunity came to award the first Sharon Hendrickson Memorial Scholarship, named after a long-time Lethbridge College Upgrading instructor who passed away in 2013, they picked Varty.
Varty says she wishes she could have known the woman who inspired the scholarship. The scholarship description, written in partnership with Hendrickson’s children, states that Hendrickson “exemplified what it means to persevere. Her journey from a single teenage mother to a successful college instructor was an inspiring one. Whether her journey was as a single mother, a farmer, a restaurant owner or a grieving parent, she always managed to overcome the barriers and obstacles placed before her.”
Roxanne Dautremont, a retired Lethbridge College staff member who worked with the Upgrading team, among others, wrote in a letter to Varty when she received the award: “When diagnosed with terminal cancer, Sharon faced it head on and lived the year she had left, with joy and humour, dancing all the way out the door. After her diagnosis, the quote at the bottom of her email was changed to say: ‘It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.’ Good advice for you to take from my friend Sharon. Look back and see how far you’ve come… and put some life into the years ahead! Congratulations on being the first recipient!”
Varty explains that sometimes people receive scholarships and think of it simply as a source of financial aid, and nothing more. “But for this scholarship, it was different,” she says. “It meant so much more that I was selected – that they chose me, because they thought I exemplified what Sharon's scholarship sought to reward. And sometimes that was what kept me going, that they had faith, that they believed in me, even in the times when I might not have believed in myself.”