Kristin Smith (HBSc 2013)

Kristin SmithProfessional Services Coordinator, Seradex

On her wall, U of T Mississauga alumna Kristin Smith keeps a framed University of Toronto pennant and crest from the late 1940s. They belonged to her grandparents, but Kristin—who graduated in June 2013—didn’t grasp their full significance until the end of her first year at U of T Mississauga.

She was helping to tidy her grandparents’ home when she came across an old first-year calculus test written by her grandfather. “My first thought when I found the test was about how it looked almost identical to the ones I wrote in first year, and I laughed about how the layout hasn’t changed much since the 1940s, but then I started to think about what keeping this test for all these years meant for my grandparents.” From that moment, she began to understand the depth of the U of T tradition in her family. 

Kristin started at UTM in the concurrent teacher education program (CTEP), but switched to psychology in second year. “The people stand out in my memory,” she says. “It was such a welcoming atmosphere on campus.” Initially, she lived on campus in Oscar Peterson Hall, and eventually moved on to Leacock residence. At UTM, she also felt the impact of great teaching. She recalls the influence of sessional instructors like William Huggon and Ayesha Khan. Most of all, she remembers historical studies instructor Helen Hatton. “She made you love history!” 

For Smith’s family, their U of T history began in 1946, when her grandparents enrolled in engineering physics on the St. George campus. Her grandmother, Margit, had emigrated from Czechoslovakia in 1939, during the German occupation. Her English was limited, but while visiting the campus, she recognized Greek mathematical symbols on an enrollment poster, and decided to register in engineering. 

At the time, first- and second-year engineering classes were held in Ajax to accommodate the influx of returning veterans. There were 3,500 students in the class, only 13 of which were women. Her grandfather Lloyd, returning from serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force during the war, responded to a message board posting from a woman who needed a daily ride to the Ajax campus. It was Margit, and that was the beginning of a 66-year relationship. 

“My grandfather often jokes about finishing his degree a year later than my grandmother,” says Kristin. “He claims that in first year, prior to meeting her, his time was divided between studying and spending time with his friends. In second year, however, after meeting my grandmother, he got distracted and spent all his time with his friends or with her; that was why he failed his second year!” 

Her grandparents continued their relationship throughout school, and graduated in 1950 and 1951. Margit was the only woman in her graduating class. On May 26, 1951, they were married at Hart House.

In the following years, they had two sons; the younger of which is Kristin’s father. Kristin’s parents were married in December of 1979; the following year, her mother started teacher’s college at the University of Toronto. Patricia Jefkins-Smith graduated from OISE in 1981 with Lloyd and Margit in attendance. 

In May of 2011, Kristin and her grandfather attended an alumni celebration at Convocation Hall. At this ceremony, Kristin watched in awe as her grandfather walked across the stage and received his medal for being a 60-year alumnus.

“It was on that day that I decided I wanted my grandparents at my convocation. I saw how excited he was and I knew I wanted to share as many U of T related experiences with him as I possibly could.” It was also on that day that Kristin realized exactly how much the University of Toronto connected her to her grandparents. The previous year, Margit received her 60-year alumna medal via post as she was unable to attend the ceremony. 

On June 10, 2013, Kristin crossed the stage at Convocation Hall with her parents and grandfather looking on proudly. Margit was ill, and could not attend. Before entering Convocation Hall to begin the ceremony, Lloyd pointed out several buildings to Kristin and told her stories of his time at U of T.

“I could tell he was taking a mental walk down memory lane. It was amazing to hear all those stories.” When asked to describe what it felt like having her grandfather and parents there to watch her graduate Kristin said, “It was an extremely special day for me, not only because I achieved my degree, but also because I was able to share the moment with my mother and grandfather.” Sadly, her grandmother passed away during summer of 2013. 

For Kristin, the pennant and crest have an even greater meaning now. “Especially now that my grandmother has passed, U of T has become something that will connect me to them forever.”

Originally published in the U of T Mississauga magazine.

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