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November 27, 2023 | Alumni | Campus | Career Support

Lifelong learning: fifty years after graduating, Esther Khubyar returns to U of T

By Joe Howell

Two people standing in front of the Emmanuel College sign

Esther Khubyar was Andrew Aitchison’s teacher in high school. Three decades later, they had the rare chance to reverse roles: Khubyar is now a second-year student at Emmanuel College, with Aitchison as her admissions counsellor and academic advisor. Photos by Minh Truong.

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.) 

Esther holding up her Vic student card
Esther Khubyar holds up her Victoria College student card from 1968.  

“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?” 

Originally published by Victoria University in the U of T