When Cheryl Watts was accepted to Royal Roads University just outside of Victoria, she was very surprised and even thought it was a mistake.
As a teen living in Terrace in the 1980s, she struggled in the grips of an abusive relationship.
That, combined with addiction problems, led her to attempt suicide on several occasions.
The ravages of alcoholism and a stint living on the streets had not created the self-image of someone who would eventually take post-graduate studies and receive a Masters degree in Arts and Leadership.
“I got married when I was in Grade 10. Married when I was 17; divorced when I was 19. In the relationship, it was very violent. I tried killing myself a few times within that time,” said Watts, who is now reassured enough to be able to speak about those times without breaking her positive demeanour.
Her lack of confidence was compounded by learning disabilities which made finishing school a challenge.
“I have dyslexia so I always found school very difficult. In elementary school, I was always called out to the dumb class,” she said.
Now 46, she looks back on a life that was lived against the odds, and visiting Terrace, she stops and talks to her friends who are still living on the streets.
She said that if it weren’t for her family having come and saved her when she was on a downward spiral, she might still be on the street now, or have suffered a worse fate.
Watts’ mother Mavis, from whom she gets her Tsimshian roots, and her father Don Krause, offered Watts a place to stay despite her addictions issues.
During the tough years, she was back and forth between Terrace and Prince George, her life in shambles.
Moving back home allowed her to regroup and redirect her life, she said.
“Families are who I want to reach, she said. “My family said ‘enough,’ and were firm and direct. The families are going to be upset but there has to be hope,” said Watts, who holds seminars to help others overcome challenges related to self-realization. She believes in the power of family to help those who have taken a wrong turn and need guidance.
Watts’ smile conveys how proud and lucky she feels to be where she is now, a Royal Roads Masters graduate and the CEO of her own leadership consulting business in Edmonton called Timely Trends.
She is also contributing to several business publications, and has been a speaker on creative leadership skills at conferences.
Watts credits a social program offered through the Kermode Friendship Centre in helping to turn her life around back in the 1980s.
“When I was drinking, I took a program that helped me straighten up and that was the Kermode Friendship Centre – they did a pre-employment program 25 years ago and I took it and mainly because they paid people money to take the course,” said Watts.
She said this brought her into her first meaningful jobs, and she eventually worked in counselling herself.
She was originally a drug and alcohol counsellor with just certificate training and then took a diploma at Nechi Institute in Edmonton.
At college, her instructor encouraged her to attend Royal Roads.
“I laughed at her saying there is no way in hell because I don’t have a degree,” said Watts.
“She pushed and said I will write a letter on your behalf.”
Local Northwest Community College instructor David Try also wrote a letter on Watt’s behalf.
“I thought ‘yes there are people who actually believe in me.’ When you don’t think you will be accepted, you are confident,” said Watts.
Watts says her counselling work, as well as helping with the family logging business, paid off.
“They accepted me because of my work experience and the fact I worked in our family logging business showed them I knew how a business is run.”