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Mary Mackay's (BMgmt’24) last surprise before graduating is her best

Posted by Sonya Jampolsky on May 14, 2024 in News

Many things have taken Mary Mackay by surprise since she arrived at Dalhousie in September of 2018; some are good, others have tested her, and a few she wasn’t sure she could endure. But the biggest surprise of all is the change between who she was when she arrived and who is she is now. That growth, she says, is something she'll be thinking about when she crosses the stage to receive her Bachelor of Management (BMgmt) this May.

Mackay grew up as the youngest of five children in Millbrook First Nation, less than an hour from Dalhousie University. She says leaving the reserve, where everyone is Indigenous and she was surrounded by people she knows, was a shock and isolating. “I went from being in a busy house, with cousins and friends living with us, to being in a dorm room by myself,” she says.

Everything is totally different

Without a vehicle and a way to go home, Mackay started going to the Indigenous Student Centre and began making friends with other Indigenous students. She says what brought them together was that they were “in the same boat as me, where they were struggling being away from community.”

Reflecting on that first year, Mackay says even reaching out to the student centre was daunting. But she knew she needed help academically and socially, and she wasn’t going to let ‘culture shock’ take over.

Mackay explains that she didn’t know a lot about real life. “Everything is totally different [on the reserve];” she says, “there’s also a lot of broken English.”

There was so much I didn’t know

Raised by a single mother, Mackay was encouraged by her mom and her older sisters to pursue a post-secondary education. One of her sisters thought a management degree would lead to good job opportunities, and Mackay applied.

As she struggled with courses, marketing in particular, Mackay’s new friends started leaving Dalhousie. She says it was ‘extra hard because I formed my little community, and then they all ended up leaving.’ But Mackay was determined to persevere and life slowly improved.

Mackay took the first-year marketing course a second time and ended up making it one of her majors. The professor even remarked about well she was doing. She also started taking Indigenous studies courses and was surprised by what she learned about her own history. “I learned so much; even though I grew up on reserve, there was still so much that I didn't know, such as the Indian Act,” she adds.

I’m just doing so much better

Her favourite courses — contemporary issues and Indigenous studies, and Indigenous peoples in the media — made a deep impression on Mackay. “It was nice to be in Indigenous courses, especially with Indigenous professors. It just makes it feel more comfortable.”

After working with TD Bank the past four years, Mackay has a two-year contract with RBC, where she’ll rotate through various units.

Looking back at her journey, she says she’s delighted at how it’s turned out. “I didn't really clue in about how much I would learn and how much I'll grow as a person just by going to university. In my first year I was in a hard place and now I'm just doing so much better.”

Aside from her academic and professional successes, she says, “I made my best friends the first year of university” and she’s excited to be seeing them soon. All of them have gone back to school, in other parts of the province, and they continue to support one another and celebrate their achievements together.

While her focus is on graduation, Mackay plans to return home to Millbrook First Nation in the future. When she walks across the stage wearing a traditional ribbon skirt, her mom and all her siblings will be there to see it. “I’m excited, this is huge,” she says.

The Mackay famiily: Joey, Faith, Alisha, Lisa (mom), Nikki, Mary