Exceptional Vernon School District students recognized by Governor General

Alison Campeau, Dexter James, Sydney Acton, Scott Mcintyre and Riley Mottus earned Governor General's Academic Medals...

For more than 125 years, the Governor General’s Academic Medals have recognized the outstanding scholastic achievements of students in Canada.

And now, added to the list are Alison Campeau, Dexter James, Sydney Acton, Scott Mcintyre and Riley Mottus, all Vernon School District graduates who have earned the award for 2011 that is given to students graduating with the highest average.

Clarence Fulton graduate Riley Mottus took time away from writing finals at the University of Victoria to reflect on his time in high school.

Mottus said he wasn’t the best student until Grade 4, when he began to care about how he did in school and began to push himself to do better.

“My motivation came mainly from two areas: the idea of designing my own future and being the best that I could be,” he said. “I wanted to do well enough that I had the option to do anything with my life.”

Mottus managed the senior boys’ basketball team in Grade 11 and 12, something that gave him some of his fondest high school memories.

“Going to provincials both years, and especially placing third in Grade 11, will be times I don’t soon forget. I don’t think we ever had a negative trip, even when we didn’t win.”

Mottus credits his classmates for their positive influence, whether he was competing with them for the top mark or just hanging out with them.

“They made me smarter and influenced me,” he said. “My teachers had the same effect, in particular Mr. Schratter (math and calculus) and Mr. Garlick (physics). Both men love their subject areas and it rubbed off on me. I fell in love with math and physics even more, and it made choosing which one to focus on at university really hard.”

Mottus jokes that finding the time to cram it all in meant cutting back on sleep. But he said it really came down to not taking many breaks.

“I was working on homework or studying all the time that I wasn’t doing something extra-curricular. In the last few years of high school, I cut TV and video games out of my life except for weekends. I didn’t take on more than one extra-curricular at a time so I could focus on academics.”

In his first year of a double-degree in computer science and mathematics, Mottus said computer science is appealing because of the variety of future careers it offers.

“It would be cool to work for Google or Microsoft or EA or one of the better known names in computers. I love programming and solving problems with programs, so something on that side of computer science would be awesome.”

If Mottus could offer advice to current high school students, it’s this: don’t slack off, do what you love and have some fun.

“Don’t let other people tell you what to do with your life. You don’t know how many people tried to convince me to become a doctor, lawyer or other jobs that would pay more than what I’m working towards, but those are jobs I wouldn’t love,” he said. “You are in charge of your education. You are the one that decides your chances of success.”

Charles Bloom graduate Alison Campeau said with a good work ethic, success will follow.

“You just have to prioritize and know when you need to study and when you need to have some fun,” she said. “And extra-curricular activities are what made high school enjoyable for me.

“If you want something bad enough, work hard for it. And don’t limit yourself to what other people think you should do.”

One of Campeau’s fondest memories is her time in EarthQuest, something she calls an amazing experience, where she learned a lot about herself.

“I was so lucky to have the opportunity to learn in such a dynamic setting. How often do you get to spend the day in Kal Park digging up roots, and call it school?

“Another great memory was the Europe trip I took with my French class. It was awesome I got to experience it with my friends. Thank you so much to Madame Norman and Mr. Kopy for taking us, and Moe and Reido for all the unforgettable experiences in Quest.”

Now attending McGill University in Montreal, Campeau said she has had to adjust from a high school where she knew all 400 of the students there, to attending classes that contain 600 strangers.

In the biomedical and life sciences program, Campeau is taking general science courses this year and plans to major in physiology and physics.

“After I finish my undergraduate degree I have not decided what I would like to do. I guess I’ll go wherever life takes me, maybe medical school.”

For Seaton graduate Dexter James, academics have always been important, but it’s been about more than just attaining a top letter grade.

“Of course the grades were an added incentive, but I prided myself on the concept that gaining an insight into a topic and actually understanding the material was more important than acquiring a high GPA,” he said. “My motivations were always clear to me. I wanted to do well in school so I could have good chances at getting scholarships, and have a solid foundation of knowledge that would make the transition into university as smooth as possible.”

Even while working towards top marks, James managed to play on the basketball and soccer teams at school, ran cross-country and was an active member in the leadership program.

“Some of my fondest memories from high school are the SALTS sailing trip that our leadership group took in 2010, and the numerous occasions I spent laughing with my best friend Andrew,” said James.

He also credits a vast network of caring individuals for supporting him and making him the person he is today.

“My parents have always been there to support me in all of my endeavors,” he said. “At school, people were always there to help. The dedication of teachers like Mr. Britton, Mr. Howard, Mr. Ohashi, Mrs. Dolcetti and Mr. Bell is truly inspirational. Each of them would come to school early, stay in at lunch, and often stay after school, all because they cared for their students and wanted to provide them with the best opportunity to succeed.”

In order to accomplish everything he wanted, James said he mastered the fine art of time management over the years, although he admits that at times, having a deadline looming on an assignment gave him the extra push he needed.

“I generally planned ahead to make incorporating soccer, school, leadership, family, a girlfriend and a part-time job into my life,” he said. “I am a strong believer that with hard work, determination and sacrifice, anything is possible.”

James is currently attending the University of British Columbia Okanagan, where he is enrolled in a bachelor of science program. After completing his degree, he plans on applying to medical school, with the ultimate goal of working as a surgeon.

His advice to current high school students is to live by the motto someone once imparted to him, “Work hard, and then work harder.”

“However, it is also important that one acknowledges that balance in addition to hard work is key to living a healthy lifestyle,” he said. “If I were to give any advice to students, it would be to stay open-minded and take every available opportunity.”

Kalamalka graduate Scott McIntyre doesn’t consider himself a perfectionist, just someone who when given an opportunity to apply himself, feels a strong conviction to do so in a focused way.

“The one aspect of my life that has continuously provided more opportunities, challenges and goals than any other is that of academia,” he said. “My motivation for success comes from a combination of the desire to better myself, and the satisfaction that comes from a complete, thoughtful effort.”

McIntyre’s fondest high school memories include time spent on soccer and football teams.

“I was certainly no superstar, but I was a part of some great teams,” he said. “I played French horn for three years in the concert band, and was involved in the student group SPAM (Social and Political Awareness Movement) for the last two years. I also spent a semester of Grade 11 as a member of the Earthquest Outdoor Academy.”

McIntyre said the greatest source of influence in his life has been the support from his family.

“They have always helped to congratulate me on my victories, and to console me in my losses,” he said. “They have provided the reference for how I want to conduct myself. They have shown a universal approval and willingness to help me succeed in any direction I choose to take my life.”

But through all of his academic achievements, McIntrye said finding balance has been a key component of his success.

“A one-dimensional approach of devoting all of one’s time to one field can be stressful,” he said. “It’s important not to over-schedule, because downtime is crucial to staying happy and focused.”

Now in his first year of engineering studies at UBCO, McIntyre is looking at graduating with a degree in civil engineering.

“I don’t know where I will end up, but I have the brightest of hopes for the future,” said McIntyre. “I have learned that life is only what you make of it.  The future is uncertain, and it’s best to take advantage of the opportunities life presents.”

Vernon secondary school graduate Sydney Acton said feeling a sense of accomplishment has been important to her as long as she can remember.

“Reaching the standards that I set for myself has always been more important than trying to impress my parents or friends,” she said. “The motivation to succeed, not only in academics but in whatever I decide to take on, is definitely internal.”

When she looks back on high school, among her many fond memories is the time she walked into the auditorium and auditioned for her first play.

“It was the best decision I ever made in high school — I was consistently thrown out of my comfort zone and pushed until eventually I was able to sing alone in front of an entire audience.

“I know that my experiences in theatre over those four years made me grow, and gave me a thrill that I’ve yet to find doing anything else. Thank you so much to my directors Mike, Mary, Jenny, Roland, and to everyone who was on the journey along with me.”

While Acton said the support she has received from her family has made her who she is, she is also grateful to the many people along the way who have had a positive influence on her life.

“I believe that every person that has been in my life has influenced me, whether I recognized it or not,” she said.

Now at UBCO and working towards her bachelor of science, Acton said she is still a long way from figuring out where her future lies, but she’s OK with that.

“The only way to figure out what I do and don’t like is through different experiences, and I’m hoping to have many,” she said. “I have to frequently step back and see that my education is going to give me the opportunity to see the world and find a career that allows constant growth and learning.

“The future seems uncertain sometimes, so I find it helps to focus on the not-so-distant future to remind yourself why you’re doing it.”