Secwépemc great-grandmother Lorna Thomas and daughter of revered elder Dr. Mary Thomas who died in 2007, graduates at 68, acquiring her Dogwood diploma from the Neskonlith Education Center in Salmon Arm in June 2020. (Photo contributed)

Secwépemc great-grandmother Lorna Thomas and daughter of revered elder Dr. Mary Thomas who died in 2007, graduates at 68, acquiring her Dogwood diploma from the Neskonlith Education Center in Salmon Arm in June 2020. (Photo contributed)

Secwépemc great-grandmother earns Dogwood diploma

Lorna Thomas graduates at same time as granddaughter

Lorna Thomas has lived a life full of learning and rich with experience, but she realized her grandchildren were getting something she didn’t have – and wanted.

A high school diploma.

At 68, the Secwépemc great grandmother, a member of the Neskonlith band, just earned her Dogwood diploma through the Neskonlith Education Centre in Salmon Arm.

In an interview peppered with infectious laughter, she said she doesn’t feel any different.

“Maybe just a little smarter.”

With a more serious tone, she confides she feels like she’s accomplished something.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but I never had the chance to go back to school; I was always working all the time.”

Read more: Respected elder’s work honoured

Read more: Legends come to life on Salmon Arm stage

Lorna is the daughter of revered elder Dr. Mary Thomas, who died in 2007. Lorna was one of 17 children. Eleven are still alive, all but one living in Salmon Arm.

Lorna attended grades one through seven at Salmon Arm West Elementary.

She laughs about the teacher who she says helped her develop equal dexterity in both hands by hitting her left hand with a ruler every time she wrote with it.

In Grade 8 Lorna’s family moved to Surrey where school was tough, as it was through the first half of Grade 9 in Kelowna.

Around that time her mom needed more help with her siblings, so she stayed home.

Her work life has been varied, with a lot of office work, including 10 years when she ran a greenhouse and handled all the bookkeeping and other paper work.

She also worked for newspapers across B.C. and in Alberta.

She remembers when newspaper mogul Lord Thomson of Fleet came to Kelowna and she was his private secretary.

“I got to meet the dad and the son.”

Read more: Storytelling preserves Secwepemc culture, history in Shuswap

Read more: Bringing stories to life

Read more: Memories of lakeside summers

Lorna raised two sons and a foster-daughter as a single mom after her eldest son was six. She now has 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren with two more on the way.

She says she learned a lot from her mom. When Mary was still alive, Lorna went to Kamloops and took ethnobotany.

“I got tired of it, I knew as much as the teacher,” she said.

Somewhat renowned locally for her delicious bannock, Lorna confirms she is the only one left who knows how to pit cook. She learned from her mom when the family used to catch fish from a fish run and barbecue it over the open fire.

Affected by medical concerns over the past few years which forced her to stop working, it was then Lorna decided it was time to go back to school.

“Then I’ve been seeing my grandchildren graduating. I thought if they can, I can do it.”

Deb McDougall, principal at Neskonlith Education Centre, said it’s exciting when adults decide they want to go back to school.

“Most are fighting horrific memories of school when they were little, that’s why they dropped out.”

She said Lorna has been extremely dedicated, showing up every day without fail, despite many obstacles.

McDougall would also like to get the word out about the centre’s Summer School programs, mainly for ages 11 and up. Those interested can email her at: principal@neskonlithec.com.

“Mainly because of COVID we wanted to reach out and help people. It’s difficult, they’ve had a hard time, parents don’t know how to teach; we’re going to support families who have struggled,” McDougall explained.

As for Lorna, this Saturday will be a very special day for her.

A barbecue is being held to honour not only her but her granddaughter Ashanta August, who is also graduating this year.

Lorna laughs when she explains her granddaughter is 18 while she is 68. Just a 50-year difference.



newsroom@saobserver.net

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

#Salmon ArmFirst NationsGraduation 2020

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Happy graduate Lorna Thomas completes her Adult Dogwood at 68 at the Neskonlith Education Center in Salmon Arm in June 2020. (Photo contributed)

Happy graduate Lorna Thomas completes her Adult Dogwood at 68 at the Neskonlith Education Center in Salmon Arm in June 2020. (Photo contributed)

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
253 new COVID-19 cases, 4 more deaths in Interior Health over the weekend

More than 1,000 cases in the region remain active

Interior Health confirms vaccination of priority populations has begun in Salmon Arm. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccinations underway in Salmon Arm

Interior Health confirms vaccination of priority populations has begun

Interior Health and School District 83 are responding to a confirmed COVID-19 exposure at the Salmon Arm Secondary Sullivan campus. (File photo)
COVID-19 virus returns to Salmon Arm Secondary campus

Member of Sullivan campus tests positive for COVID-19

A member of the M.V. Beattie Elementary School community tested positive for COVID-19, according to a statement issued Jan. 17, 2021. (photo submitted)
COVID-19 exposure at Enderby elementary

Member of school community tests positive for virus

Bastion Elementary was open Monday, Jan. 17, after one case of COVID-19 was confirmed among the school community. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)
COVID-19 case confirmed at second Salmon Arm elementary school

Member of Bastion Elementary community self-isolating, students allowed to attend school

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

This is the location, 3240 Skaha Lake Road, of where BC Housing plans to build a four storey supportive housing project for the homeless and at risk of being homeless. (Jesse Day Western News)
Penticton mayor and MLA concerned about new BC Housing project

‘Penticton already has its fair share’ of BC Housing projects

Interior Health declared the COVID-19 outbreak at McKinney Place long term care home over Monday, Jan. 18, 2020. (File photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at McKinney Place care home declared over

‘This has been one of our most challenging outbreaks so far,’ says chief medical health officer

Penticton Bylaw officer Glenn Smith, as well as resident Zak Laycock (not pictured), received the Governor General Award from the Royal Canadian Humane Association to recognize their heroism in a summer 2019 incident. (Contributed)
Bylaw officer and Penticton resident given awards for intervening in sexual assault

Bylaw officer Glenn Smith said he was simply in the right place at the right time

Sunnybank
COVID-19 related deaths at Oliver, West Kelowna and Vernon senior care homes

Sunnybank, Heritage Retirement Residence and Noric House recorded deaths over the weekend

Hillview Elementary students Emma Li and Mina Nadeau were awarded by the Premier’s office for winning the annual holiday card contest. (Karen Rogers photo)
North Okanagan students’ art featured on Premier’s cards

Hillview youth chosen for annual holiday card contest

A female prisoner sent Langford police officers a thank-you card after she spent days in their custody. (Twitter/West Shore RCMP)
Woman gives Victoria-area jail 4.5-star review in handwritten card to police after arrest

‘We don’t often get thank you cards from people who stay with us, but this was sure nice to see’: RCMP

An elk got his antlers caught up in a zip line in Youbou over the weekend. (Conservation Officer Service Photo)
Elk rescued from zip line in Youbou on Vancouver Island

Officials urge people to manage items on their property that can hurt animals

An Abbotsford man was killed in a motor vehicle accident on Highway 3 on Monday, Jan. 18. (Black Press file photo)
Abbotsford man killed in Highway 3 crash near Hedley

Fatality was discovered by passing tow truck driver

Most Read