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Hay River grad hits milestone at Cambridge
Matthew Scarborough graduates with PhD from famed university in the U.K.

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Monday, June 12, 2017

Matthew Scarborough has gone where perhaps no one else from Hay River has gone before in the world of academia.

NNSL photograph

Matthew Scarborough is pictured at the University of Cambridge's Senate House after he was awarded his PhD in Classics on March 25. - photo courtesy of Charlie Scarborough

On March 25, the 31-year-old - who attended kindergarten to Grade 12 in Hay River - graduated with a PhD from the faculty of classics at the famed University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

"I would like to think that I was a good student and I had plans to pursue higher education," he said of his time in school in Hay River. "When I graduated from Diamond Jenness, I had plans to attend the University of Alberta because it was the nearest major university, but I have to admit I never would have thought that I would end up eventually pursuing a doctorate, let alone doing it at the University of Cambridge."

When he graduated from Diamond Jenness in 2003, he enrolled at the University of Alberta in engineering.

However, he wasn't ready for the competitiveness of the program, made intentionally difficult in the first year so a certain percentage of students drop out.

"I still wanted to pursue higher education so I enrolled in the liberal arts program at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton (now MacEwan University) and there I developed interests in ancient history and classical Latin," he said.

"I thought that this might eventually lead to further academic study, but at that point I didn't have any idea whether it would lead anywhere.

"I just found something that I enjoyed studying, and without any previous experience studying these subjects ,ended up doing rather well at."

In 2006, he transferred to the University of Alberta to start a degree in classics - ancient Greek and Roman studies - which he completed in 2009.

"I began to specialise in the study of ancient Greek language and linguistics, which has remained my main area of research until now," he said.

Scarborough explained he became fascinated with the use of historical linguistics as a way of studying human history through language - such as evidence of interaction between cultures - and decided to pursue further studies in it after finishing a master's of arts degree.

"Fortunately, I had managed to win a doctoral fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and by luck I found a potential supervisor who was interested in my work at Cambridge, so I took it there and I've been living there ever since then," he explained.

Scarborough said his PhD dissertation research focuses on the origins and prehistory of a specific group of ancient Greek dialects - the Aeolic dialects, which consisted of the regional dialects of Boeotia and Thessaly in central Greece, and the island of Lesbos off the western coast of what is now Turkey.

Scarborough is getting used to being a graduate of the University of Cambridge.

"I don't think it really hit me how big of an accomplishment it was until I got home the night after I had received my degree certificate," he said.

"After all that work, it's rather nice to finally be able to call myself a doctor."

Scarborough is currently working as a research associate for a project based at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, as well as teaching part-time in Cambridge.

In the long term, he is looking for a more secure academic teaching and research job.

However, he said he hopes young people might see from his example that there are opportunities for them to advance their education and possibilities in the world that they might not have even thought of pursing in high school.

Scarborough recalled that, as a student at Diamond Jenness, there were many teachers and staff dedicated to their profession working to bring out the best in students.

"Hay River also has an excellent public library and this is a great resource for all people in the community."

Lynne Beck, principal of Diamond Jenness, taught Scarborough social studies from Grade 10 through Grade 12.

"He was a very deep thinker even as a high school student," she recalled.

Beck said other Diamond Jenness graduates have gone on to top universities in Canada and sometimes to Ivy League universities in the United States.

However, she recognizes that attending University of Cambridge is special, and a great accomplishment for someone from a small town and small high school.

"Cambridge is like making the NHL," she said with a laugh.

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