By Joe Howell
It’s not every day you get to mentor your former high school teacher in grad school. That’s what happened when Andrew Aitchison, admissions counsellor at Emmanuel College, got the chance to serve as Esther Khubyar’s academic advisor. We sat down with the two of them to hear the story of this rare reversal of roles.
Khubyar first met Aitchison nearly 30 years ago, when she was a teacher at Etobicoke Collegiate Institute in the mid-1990s and he was in Grade 12. He was always friendly and respectful in class, she says—prompting Aitchison to joke it was because of her “no-nonsense” reputation. “That’s true!” she laughs.
Their paths next crossed in the early 2000s, when Khubyar went to hear the music at Islington United Church’s Christmas Eve service. She found it so welcoming she continued attending, bumping into Aitchison at a Sunday service. “I said, ‘Andrew, what are you doing here?’ and he said, “My father’s the minister!’ I’ve been at Islington United Church ever since; the community is wonderful.”
Nearly three decades after they first met, the two ended up swapping roles last year when Khubyar, who has retired from teaching, decided to go back to school. In order to deepen her understanding of her Christian worldview and the United Church of Canada, she enrolled in the Certificate in Theological Studies at Emmanuel College, where Aitchison is the admissions counsellor and recruitment coordinator.
Khubyar didn’t just reconnect with her former pupil—it also meant a return to the campus of Victoria University, where she graduated in 1972 with an English degree from Victoria College. (Emmanuel and Vic are the two colleges that comprise Victoria University in the University of Toronto.)
“As I wandered around campus last September, I was in awe,” says Khubyar. “I’m able to be back here 50 years after graduating. Is that not an absolute blessing? I just felt so privileged. There was not one obstacle in attending Emmanuel; I had support from family and friends, and Andrew helped me through the application process. He’s been my stalwart.”
"That’s really gratifying to hear,” says Aitchison. “I know you were hesitant or a bit nervous about coming back in your seventies. I’m so happy you are enjoying the experience and that it is expanding your world!”
What’s next for Khubyar, as she furthers her spiritual skills and deepens her religious understanding? She is enjoying her second year at Emmanuel, and once she completes the Certificate in Theological Studies, she will decide if she wants to continue to a full master’s degree in theology. “I also want to encourage people at any age to continue with their education as lifelong learners,” says Khubyar. “Who knows what wonderful opportunities they might experience?”
Audio: Esther Explains Her Love of School
Esther Khubyar crossed the ocean by boat when she was a very young girl in the 1950s, leaving Iraq to start a new life in Canada. It was a miserable existence, she says, which finally got better when she started school—what she calls her “first pleasant memory.” Listen to our audio clip to hear her tell the story about why school meant so much to that little girl from Baghdad.
Interested in learning more about the programs at Emmanuel College and whether you can see yourself here? Reach out to admissions counsellor Andrew Aitchison at email@example.com for more information, or register here for Emmanuel Encounter 2023, our upcoming meet-and-greet lunchtime event for prospective students on Wednesday, Nov. 22.