Janice Varzari (BN ’90, MEd ’02) has connections that run deep to the University of Lethbridge, spanning nearly as long as the history of the institution itself.
As a student with the Galt School of Nursing, she and several colleagues took a course at the U of L in 1970 when campus was still located on the south side of the city at Lethbridge Junior College. She remembers the excitement, as well as the heated controversy, that came with building University Hall in its current west-side location. And as the 1990s approached, in the midst of a busy season raising a young family, Varzari started a degree in nursing at the U of L, going on to convocate with great distinction and earning the gold medal for academic achievement.
With a commitment to life-long learning, Varzari again returned to the University in the late ’90s, starting a completely new path and taking a master’s in education with a specialization in counselling psychology.
“I felt like I was just beginning my career all over again after nursing for so many years,” she says. “Knowledge is power. I knew the more I studied, the more I’d be able to do what I really wanted to do.”'
At that same time, one of Varzari’s two daughters (who are both U of L graduates) was working on a management degree at the U of L. Both Varzari and her daughter, Cara, graduated in the spring of 2002. Varzari went on to work with Lethbridge Family Services as a counsellor for nine years, while continuing to serve in a strategic role as vice-president and co-owner (with her husband Glenn) of National Salvage Ltd. and National Holdings Ltd.
Over the past decade, Varzari’s ties to the U of L have only strengthened. Inducted into the Alumni Honour Society in 2008, Varzari has remained active as a donor, senate and board member. Now she’s embarking on a yet another new learning venture as chancellor of the University of Lethbridge.
“Somebody recently said to me, ‘Why on earth would you want to start on this four-year journey when you can retire? It surely must be interfering with your life,’” recounts Varzari. “I thought for a while before I responded, ‘This is my life.’ This is what I want to be doing. I want to continue growing, learning and being active in the community. It’s so important to give back because our community is more than houses and buildings and streets. To be healthy, we need to do meaningful work and we need to play and we need to connect with other people. Because the U of L is so important to me, it’s the perfect fit.”
Varzari was officially installed as Chancellor at the spring convocation ceremony last May, where she conferred more than 1,400 degrees to new graduates.
“It was a really surreal and emotional experience. To be installed, and then sit there and look at this sea of students in their gowns, it was like, “This can’t be happening to me.” I was, and still feel, so absolutely honoured,” says Varzari.
As a U of L alumna, Varzari is the first chancellor in the University’s nearly 50-year history to hold a degree from the institution.
“I have heard from a lot of people in the community and within the University, who have said, it’s time. It’s time we had somebody of our own, someone who has graduated from the University to have this job. Although I didn’t think of it that way when I was asked to let my name stand, it certainly has materialized in a way that people see it as fabulous that a University of Lethbridge graduate can do this.”
In her new role, Varzari will lead senate representatives as they actively work to connect the University to the community. Made up of more than 60 delegates and volunteers from across southern Alberta, the Senate serves to connect the U of L to the external and internal community, including its students. Looking forward to the four-year term, Varzari is eager to spread the word about the University.
“I want people to know how awesome the University is. It’s grown exponentially since I took the nursing program. The U of L has established itself as one of the most respected and influential universities of its size in the country," says Varzari. "All the while, it has been a community leader, economically, educationally and culturally. People come from all over the world to the U of L because there is something special the University has to offer.”
But she’s not stopping there. Varzari hopes that as others understand the value of the U of L, they’ll be motivated to become engaged in supporting new initiatives.
“It’s a very exciting time to be part of the University,” she says. “We will celebrate our 50th anniversary in 2017. It will be a time to celebrate our rich history and look ahead to our next 50 years, particularity as the vision of the Destination Project becomes a reality.”
For Vazari, the next four years will be guided by gratitude, and as the University’s primary ambassador to the community, a time to share her blue and gold pride far and wide.
“I’m very proud to be a U of L graduate, and I’m very proud of the University. This is my university,” she says. “The U of L lit up my life.”