Where were you in ’72? On this day 50 years ago I began my Zoology degree

A CBC News report last week on the 1972 historic Canada/USSR hockey series made me think about where I was in early September that year: starting my degree in Zoology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

The Stanley Park Zoo in Vancouver housed a polar bear exhibit consisting of four, formerly ‘orphaned’ cubs from Churchill. The zoo was located near the West Vancouver bus exchange that I went through every day on my way home from university. I visited the zoo often just to watch the bears.

Because I had written a scholarship exam in Biology in my final high school year, I was told on the first day of registration at the university that I could take a Biology 100 exemption exam (you did all this registration in person in those days: it took at least an entire day (sometimes two) of standing in line to get signed up for each course in your program). I hadn’t known this was an option and was totally unprepared: I hadn’t thought about biology for months and had never taken an exam without studying beforehand. However, they said it was pass/fail and there really was nothing to lose, so I gave it a try and I passed.

That gave me an automatic credit for first year Biology, which was more of a real leg-up than I realized at first. It meant I was eligible to take any second year Zoology course in my program. But I had to make a decision fast, without having thought about it beforehand. I chose the year-long course in Developmental Biology, a required course with a demanding laboratory component on the embryonic development of animals.

Although few students did well in this course, I aced it. Only 20 out of 400+ students got an A that year and I was one of them. I knew why: it was what I had gone to university to learn and I poured a ton of effort and energy into it. The solid satisfaction I got from that course gave me the fortitude to stick with the required Physics and Math courses that caused me no end of grief (I passed them both, but only just).

That’s what I remember about the first week of September 1972. I do vaguely remember watching the hockey games but only because I read about them last week on the news: I would have forgotten otherwise.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how things work out? I never would have believed back then that this is where I would end up after 50 years. It seems that those visits to the zoo to watch the polar bears during my first years at university were more important to my education than I realized.

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