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Retired professor honours his past by paying it forward

Professor emeritus Graham Knight knows he’s standing on the shoulders of previous generations. In turn, he’s chosen to pay it forward to support future generations.

Sep 25, 2015

“They call the Baby Boomers the lucky generation,” says Knight. “We came of age at a time when there were lots of opportunities that have since started to close down.”

With that in mind, Knight established the Alice and Walter Day Scholarship in 2012.

Named in honour of the grandparents who helped to raise him, the scholarship is awarded to a McMaster student who demonstrates outstanding academic achievement in the Honours Labour Studies program.

“In a sense, I’m the result of the process of upward social mobility that occurred over the course of the 20th century,” says Knight, who was raised in a working-class family in England. His family scraped together enough money to send him to private school at the age of nine. That set him on his path, which took him to Canada for graduate studies and ultimately to his 35-year career at McMaster.

Graham Knight and Travis McCallum-300W x 192H

“My grandfather left school at 11, my mother at 14 – and I never left school,” he jokes. Although he retired in 2012, Knight is still working and still studying. In fact, he is currently enrolled in an undergraduate language course.

Knight has also included McMaster in his estate plans, which will establish an endowment so the scholarship can exist in perpetuity.

“And the actual scholarship amount can start to grow a bit, too,” adds Knight. “This is about helping students, and the goal is to make the award last forever.”

Travis McCallum is the most recent recipient of the Alice and Walter Day Scholarship. When he learned the story behind the award, “it really resonated with me,” he says. His grandparents also overcame significant challenges – including serving in the Second World War and living in refugee camps – and they also toiled in blue-collar jobs to forge a decent life for their families.

As well, McCallum credits his parents for the financial sacrifices they made to send him and his sister to private schools and then university.

“There is the distinct possibility that, for the first time in more than a century, the standard of living will actually decline from one generation to the next,” says McCallum, who graduated this year with his Honours BA in Labour Studies. “Will my children have the opportunities that I have?”

He is now beginning his master’s in international relations to research some of the economic and political factors that may answer that question.

McCallum is grateful for Knight’s scholarship, which has given him “both breathing room and the motivation to continue my research. It’s amazing.”