When Ayal Lesh decided to return to school at the age of 61 – to study blacksmithing of all things – he said his family and friends were surprised.

He said some of the responses included, “does blacksmithing still exist? So, you’ll be learning to make horseshoes? But you don’t have a tattoo. Does this mean you will be getting a tattoo? That would be very cool.”

Stepping through the big red doors at the Haliburton School of Art + Design in the fall of 2023, Lesh said he did so with trepidation and self-doubt. He was a mature student joining a physically-demanding certificate program, amid younger, and his opinion, more gifted artists.

However, he had been inspired by his daughter, an artist in her own right, to take the plunge. He reiterated he was “petrified” on day one, but took solace in the fact there were many mature students on campus in Haliburton. There was also a spirit of camaraderie amongst students, faculty and staff.

He said it was an honour to represent his fellow HSAD grads. “Many of you overcame significant life challenges to reach this milestone and all of you worked diligently, often putting in 70 to 75 hours each week… but we did it and we’re here today to celebrate our accomplishments, and we can be very proud.”

He added the moral to his story was for people to venture beyond their comfort zones. “Don’t let fear of failing stop you.”

HSAD faculty member Juliette Arsenault said when Lesh arrived, “he quickly established himself as a natural leader on campus and encouraged fellow classmates from day one.”

She said he instigated Thanksgiving meals for students who could not go home; organized a pizza and movie night; and a collaborative project at the endof-year exhibition for all programs. She added he personified Fleming’s values of collaboration, inclusiveness, responsiveness, innovation and accountability

The HSAD graduates joined peers from the other two Fleming campus’ June 11 for the graduation ceremony in Peterborough.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Fleming College hosted convocation at the Peterborough Memorial Centre before moving it to the Sutherland, Frost and Haliburton campuses. Fleming decided to return to the Memorial Centre, “to ensure convocation was accessible and inclusive for everyone,” said college spokesperson Sarah Deeth.

A livestream of the event was (and still is) available on Fleming’s YouTube channel, allowing friends and family from around the world to join in the festivities.

“The virtual component ensured that everyone, regardless of location, could share in the pride and joy of convocation,” Deeth said.

She added, “Fleming College is proud of our graduates and their accomplishments.

These students are heading into the workforce ready to make meaningful impacts in their chosen careers and in the communities in which they will serve.

“As these graduates embark on their professional journeys, Fleming College remains committed to supporting their success through its extensive alumni networks and professional development opportunities. Congratulations, class of 2024.”