Chris Gardner was diagnosed with a learning disability at a young age.
The diagnosis was coupled with persistent mental health struggles.
Still, he was undeterred from spending the next three decades defying what he had been told were his limits.
Tonight, he will walk across the stage at convocation in St. John’s to collect a bachelor of arts degree in history, with a minor in political science, as part of the Class of 2022.
Perseverance pays off
Mr. Gardner’s early educational years were interwoven with uncertainties and adverse experiences.
During his family’s three-year stay in Waterloo, Ont., he changed schools three times.
After being incorrectly medicated for ADHD, his academic worries reached their peak.
Combining that with bullying from his classmates, Mr. Gardner had a tough time in school; consequently, he was held back in Grades 7 and 8.
Nevertheless, he persevered and graduated high school and went on to begin his employment at Memorial University as a cleaner in the Department of Facilities Management.
He is now an honoured retiree after 31.5 years of dedicated service to the university.
Sometimes all you need is to believe
One summer in 1991, Mr. Gardner’s friend planted the idea of going into post-secondary education into his mind.
That moment kickstarted the next two decades of his academic journey, along with a diagnosis that changed his life.
Mr. Gardner connected with Barbara Hopkins, then an associate professor in the Faculty of Education.
“Getting the right diagnosis was an eye-opener for me.”
She assisted him in attaining a psychological assessment prior to beginning his studies, which enabled him to be finally diagnosed with a learning disability and obtain the necessary accommodations from the Blundon Centre.
“Getting the right diagnosis was an eye-opener for me,” said Mr. Gardner. “It helped me understand why my experiences have been how they have been and it helped me and my advisors at the Blundon Centre better understand my needs.”
Always an avid reader, with a particular interest in history and geopolitical matters, he knew he wanted to study the arts.
He says that John Greene and Jerry Gardner, two of his childhood history teachers, are the biggest influences in his life, and that they helped him to discover his passions and were unwavering supports.
He also acknowledges numerous instructors at Memorial who assisted him with following realistic timelines and study plans throughout his degree.
Furthermore, he availed of Memorial’s Employee Development program; he credits this as crucial financial assistance.
“My supervisors were always timely with processing the required paperwork and continued to accommodate and encourage me. They saw potential and their reassurance made me believe I could do it,” said Mr. Gardner.
Reach out for help
His peers say that he is a kind, resilient person who genuinely cares about those around him.
“I remember when my father passed away…the first person I see at the funeral is Chris. He doesn’t drive, but he still made arrangements to be present there, all the way out to Witless Bay,” said Lorna Yard, a television producer at Memorial’s Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.
As Mr. Gardner prepares to finally live the retirement dream and start ticking things off his bucket list, he wishes to advise all those who are struggling with mental health or at school to reach out for help, no matter how difficult and scary taking that first step may be.
“You never know what you can do until you do it.”