David Norton BA'90


David Norton standing beside a Bluenose II life preserver.

June 2020
David Norton BA'90
British Columbia

“Today’s youth offer us hope and their talents are focused on the future. We are obliged to assist them in their search for personal fulfillment and contribution to society in the myriad of careers they will grow into.”

What made you choose Saint Mary’s University and the Bachelor of Arts program?

I arrived in Halifax in 1969 from Calgary with the intention of attending the Woodstock music festival and then going to Europe to become a musician. I had left school and departed home in Calgary the day after I turned 17. My family had been severely affected by the familial fallout of post WWII PTSD and addiction. I was seeking a new beginning, somewhere far away from the pain. I was encouraged to stay in Halifax and enrolled at St. Pat’s, working part-time to pay for my room at a local boarding house. With the support of a few wonderful teachers at St. Pat’s, my abilities resurfaced, and I applied to Saint Mary’s at the close of grade 11. I was fortunate to be accepted to both Saint Mary’s class of 1974 and the Canadian Forces R.O.T.P. program.

What was your experience like at Saint Mary’s?

My time at SMU is hard to describe. First, I experienced acceptance from the moment of arrival. I had survived a cancer scare the previous year while at St. Pat’s, and was still seeking to find personal stability. In spite of the many personal challenges I faced, Saint Mary’s provided a stable place for me to explore and experience my inner world and potential. I have many fond memories of attending championship football games, going to class, and, most importantly, a feeling of acceptance in a community of caring people. After I left, SMU was wonderful in allowing me to complete my degree, taking courses at both the University of Calgary and the University of British Columbia to complete my degree requirements in 1990. I then completed the entry requirements for a M.A. program in Counselling Psychology at UBC, graduating in 1995.

What was your career path after graduating and what are you doing currently?

After leaving Saint Mary’s, I began a career working with marginalized populations. First, in youth services, then as a secondary school counsellor and counsellor in private practice. Moving to the Sunshine Coast at the turn of the century, I worked both as a Social Worker and Child and Youth Mental Health therapist before returning to working in private practice as a Registered Clinical Counsellor. After the death of my wife, I retired and am presently writing both professionally and, finally, musically.

Do you feel Saint Mary’s prepared you for your career? How?

Saint Mary’s gave me a place to begin to find myself and illustrate my abilities. In Maslow’s terms, it gave me a place to find security, safety, and belongingness. The road to self-actualization always must be travelled on a safe highway. SMU paved that road for me in 1970. The academic part was almost secondary in my development.

The military scholarship gave me my one and only financial opportunity to go to college. Along that path, the financial services office offered me bursaries a couple of times when I was in financial need. I attended SMU from 1970 through 1973. I withdrew in 1973 when I had come to the realization that my military flight training was in direct conflict with my personal values. These personal values were reinforced in concert with the values espoused by the Jesuits, though I recognize that only in reflection. Values that cherish the marginalized, that promote the unity of the heart, mind and soul. I had always wanted to learn to fly, but found I had to find another flight path to land successfully into life.

 You recently made a gift to Saint Mary’s; could you tell us what inspired you to do so?

When I learned that students needed support because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was immediately reminded of being 18, alone, in a city 4000 km. from home and in need of help. Saint Mary’s was there for me. Today’s youth offer us hope and their talents are focused on the future. We are obliged to assist them in their search for personal fulfillment and contribution to society in the myriad of careers they will grow into.

Why did you decide to give to Saint Mary’s for the first time?

Forty-seven years after I left Halifax, I returned last fall to visit Nova Scotia and the SMU campus. When I walked into Alumni services, I was welcomed like family. This gave me comfort that Saint Mary’s still exhibits the same values of acceptance and community. Other than the stadium being gone, it felt like 1972 all over again!

How did it make you feel to give?

Appreciative, thankful, and hopeful.

What was the most beneficial thing you learned or experienced while attending Saint Mary’s?

The most important thing I learned at Saint Mary’s came from Dr. Linda Ruffman, who failed me in my senior sociology seminar. She challenged both my thinking as well as my commitment to my studies. While the theoretical argument that I explored in that seminar stuck with me and was fully illustrated in my career, Dr. Ruffman forced me to examine that ideas had to be accompanied by the hard work that goes into societal and personal change. I never got a chance to thank her. I do so here. 

Looking back on your time at SMU, what makes you nostalgic about your time on campus?

Coming “home” last year was wonderful. To walk into “the tower” in late September last year, with the buzz of the youth and excitement swirling through the building, gave me comfort and hope for the future. My visit reminded me of championship athletic teams, concerts in the stadium, and many friends made along the way.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

For the students of today, find and create relationships that are mutually beneficial. Your talents that you offer to society are important. We all are excited to see your dreams fulfilled and hope that you are able to chase those dreams into fulfillment. I wrote a song called “The Hard Way to Go” in the early ’80s. The final lyric reflects my learning at Saint Mary’s, “dreamin’ dreams ain’t just for dreamers. For each of us, there is a rainbow’s end. And if we all work hard together, we’ll find our dreams right around the bend. But we’ll have to take the hard way to go.” Thanks and appreciation to Dr. Ruffman and all who helped me on my journey. Still walking that same road and proud to be a Saint Mary’s graduate. 

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