Back to school to study with son, alumna catches up on life, rebuilds career
After a 10-year break from life as a career woman, Meena Chowdhury has found her feet again in the workplace. Within months of graduating from Sheridan’s Advertising and Marketing Communications – Management program – which she joined with her son – the 45-year-old mom of three is working as a Media Planner for a leading creative agency Wavemaker and fulfilling the dreams she had been forced to put on hold.
It’s a job that validates her creativity, her skills and above all, her determination to move past a decade of trauma which she describes as a ‘dark, depressive hole.’
Chowdhury had been working in marketing at Symantec Corporation and had just had her second child when life threw her a curve ball. “I was 30 years old when I developed crippling postpartum depression which robbed me of all motivation for 10 years. I would get to work and sit in the parking lot for an hour, just to get enough energy and strength to go into the office. And then one morning, I couldn't even leave my front door,” Chowdhury recalls.
She had to let go of her job and stayed at home, unable to work. “Then came the healing and I decided it was time to get my life back and finish all the things I wanted to do but couldn't. And here I am today after completing my three-year advanced diploma at Sheridan,” says Chowdhury who not only graduated with honours but was also class valedictorian.
Sheridan gave courage to move forward
“If anyone had told me three years prior that I would put myself out there to be valedictorian, I would have laughed in their face. I had always been a little timid, but depression made me an introvert. Before joining Sheridan, I wouldn’t leave the house on my own. My husband needed to accompany me everywhere. I had a very small circle of friends and I was definitely not into public speaking. But the program at Sheridan brought something out in me, and it gave me the courage to apply to be a valedictorian,” Chowdhury says.
“I was 30 years old when crippling postpartum depression robbed me of all motivation for 10 years... And here I am today after completing my three-year advanced diploma at Sheridan.”
Soon after graduation, one of her professors approached her about an opportunity at Wavemaker and she was successful in getting the job. “It was great because my boss is also a graduate from Sheridan, from the same program. That was a huge bonus because he knows what my skills are, based on his own education. He has also worked with many of our professors outside of Sheridan, so it was easy for me to connect with him,” she says.
Learning in class with son
It has been a case of ‘reel to real’ for Chowdhury who studied in the same program and class at Sheridan as her son Zakary, much like the father and son duo in the 1986 hit movie Back to School. While Chowdhury had dusted off her backpack once again 26 years after completing high school (her only educational credential till then), Zakary joined Sheridan soon after leaving high school. They both studied at Trafalgar Campus for a little while but shifted to HMC to join the three-year advanced diploma program in Advertising and Marketing Communications – Management. “We both enrolled together at the same time for the program, and we started school in January 2020,” Chowdhury says.
From being college mates, which in itself is rather rare for a mother and son, the two went on to become classmates. But Zakary, who had been her rock at home and constantly encouraged her to resume an active lifestyle and join the workforce, was reluctant to be seen with her at school.
“My son and I were in the same class. He would drive with me to the campus and as soon as we were in the parking lot, he’d be like, ‘Okay, I don’t know you anymore.’ He didn’t want anyone to know that I was his mom,” she recalls.
Zakary offers a broader view of his unwillingness to socialize with his mom at school: “I wanted to have my own circle of friends. I always saw my mom at home and I wanted to have a social life outside.” At home, the two of them studied together, sharing their skills and knowledge. “I’m pretty sure it helped mom more, but she’ll probably say she was the one who helped me,” he laughs.
“My son and I were in the same class. He would drive with me to the campus and as soon as we were in the parking lot, he’d be like, ‘Okay, I don’t know you anymore.’ ”
The fact that they don’t have the same last name – Chowdhury uses her maiden name while Zakary has taken his father’s last name, LaFramboise – also helped. “Even our professors didn’t know we were mother and son,” Chowdhury says.
Never too late to go back to school
The congenial classroom atmosphere at Sheridan helped Chowdhury to get over her initial concerns that being a ‘mature’ student might put her outside the circle of her younger classmates. She found that far from being a hindrance, her age and experience brought her respect and were an asset in the classroom. Not only did she lead in discussions and projects, she also became a mentor to other students. “It is never too late to go back to school, it is also not as scary as you make yourself believe. I've made some amazing new friends: some the same age as my oldest child, some who are mothers as well, and some who are even older than I am,” she says.
“It is never too late to go back to school. I've made some amazing new friends: some the same age as my oldest child, some who are mothers as well, and some who are even older than I am.”
Liked by her peers and professors alike, Chowdhury excelled at school. Once the program went virtual due to the pandemic, she became a study-buddy to her son as they were both at home taking the classes together, listening to lectures, and working on projects. While Zakary completed the two-year diploma program in 2021 and landed a job at Cossette Media, Chowdhury completed all three years.
Proud of setting an example for her kids
Chowdhury says as a parent, she has been able to show her kids that it doesn’t matter how old you are or what stage of life you’re at, you can always pursue your dreams by going back to school. She counts the convocation at Sheridan, when she was on stage as class valedictorian, among her most precious memories. She sums it up in a LinkedIn post: “..the look of pride I received from my three kids who had watched me work my hardest for three years while still being their mom, a wife, caregiver to an aging parent, nurse, doctor, chef, teacher, chauffeur, manager, tutor, referee, closet monster slayer…. wearing all the hats that parents wear. My time at Sheridan, and especially the convocation ceremony, are among my biggest life experiences that I will never forget!”
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