From software engineering to Russian literature, the fields of study for the winners of the 2014 Governor General Award is as wide-ranging as they are.
Clarence Fulton graduate Alexa Lewis said doing her best has always been important to her.
“I’m a perfectionist,” she said. “I enjoy learning about things that interest me, so my classes always mattered to me.”
Although her parents have always supported her, Lewis said they didn’t put pressure on her to achieve straight As.
“They only wanted me to do my best. They were proud of me no matter what my report card said,” said Lewis. “I’d also like to thank all my teachers who helped me through the years.”
Now at the University of Victoria, with plans to major in political science, Lewis advises current high school students to stop worrying and to not sweat the small stuff.
“School is just school. Don’t let your grades define you. But remember to celebrate. Be proud of what you have accomplished, and don’t let anyone tell you any different.”
In Grade 12, Lewis said she was lucky to have a spare which meant balancing homework was never a problem.
“There’s not a system or anything to balancing it all. You just work hard,” she said. “When things are looking impossible, just push through it. It won’t last forever.”
While Victoria has too much rain for her liking, Lewis is enjoying her university studies and has become passionate about political science, and is looking to the future with a possible career in politics.
“I’d love to work in the government. Politics have always interested me, but it’s difficult for someone young and female to get involved. Foreign relations and diplomacy is what I’m looking at right now. But who knows?”
W.L. Seaton grad Mart Van Buren graduated with a dual Dogwood in both English and French immersion and said he has always had an eye on the future, which meant taking academics seriously and earning good grades.
“Colleges and universities alike base their admissions on averages and grades in academic classes, so if I plan to pursue a degree, I have to take my academics seriously,” he said.
For Van Buren, the key to doing well has been curiosity. If he enjoys something, he has the capacity to remember it.
“So I would say the people who have supported me most have been the people that make the school material interesting,” he said. “Of course, this starts with the way I was raised, but extends to all the teachers that do their best to make the most of the classes they teach.”
Class valedictorian Van Buren’s advice to current high school students is to have their priorities straight.
“Everyone has different interests and should focus on different areas in school, but it is important to have your priorities straight, and do work you can be proud of.
“I would also recommend taking an extracurricular class that interests you, to balance the academic classes. Whether it is sports, drama, cooking or music, it teaches you different skills and helps you take your mind off academics. For me, I learned a different language and learned to play the alto sax.”
Van Buren called his participation in EarthQuest in Grade 11 his most memorable high school experience, with its expeditions ranging from telemark skiing on a glacier to kayaking in the Gulf Islands, all while offering valuable time-management skills from vLearn online education.
Currently studying software engineering at the University of Waterloo, Van Buren has a busy schedule but is so far enjoying all of his classes.
“My plans are to do the best I can in university, and to find co-op jobs, and later a career, that I will enjoy.”
From East Hill to the hills of Scotland, Jacob Zayshley has travelled a long way to continue the studies he began at Vernon secondary school.
Now a student at the University of St Andrews, Zayshley was class valedictorian at VSS and is now the 40th Anniversary McEuen Scholar, an award given annually to one Canadian student who has already made plans to attend St Andrews, for a fully funded undergraduate degree at the university that is more than 600 years old.
“Academics have always been important to me because they are the higher pursuit of my life,” said Zayshley. “I consider the effort to attain and expand existing knowledge to be an effort worthy of anyone’s time.”
Zayshley gives credit to his family for always encouraging him to perform to the best of his ability, and his teachers who believed in him and inspired him throughout the years.
“I also have to express my appreciation for the great authors and thinkers I have read over the past years, for their works have had immense influence on me.”
Zayshley said he’s always enjoyed studying subjects most would consider academic, such as political science and philosophy, but he took pleasure in studying them in his own time.
“I didn’t really see them as means to an end. The effort to study academic subjects wasn’t undertaken to secure good grades, but because it was meaningful to me personally.”
But Zayshley also enjoyed non-academic pursuits such as being part of the Sadok Ukrainian Dance Ensemble.
Now studying towards a joint honours degree in Russian and international relations, Zayshley said his interest in Russian is largely derived from his Ukrainian heritage.
“My uncle introduced me to Russian literature, and I greatly enjoyed reading everyone from Tolstoy and Lermontov to Gogol and Dostoevsky.”
His first semester at St Andrews has been filled with highlights: making new friends and thoroughly enjoying his courses.
“There have been many incredible experiences: attending Sunday services at a 600-year old chapel and walking the pier on the North Sea with a traditional red cloak.”
Kalamalka graduate Sarah Letkeman credits her parents as her biggest influence and source of support.
“I was raised to value learning in all its forms,” she said. “I also had teachers who were very supportive.”
She encourages current students to look to the future, beyond high school.
“Don’t live in fear of post-secondary, but make sure your identity is not centred around high school,” she said. “Work hard in class, be well-informed on university prerequisites and entrance and exit requirements but don’t waste energy worrying about the future: everyone is just as inexperienced as you are.”
To balance her time, Letkeman made sure she studied well in advance of exams and left plenty of time for projects.
“I think that much of what we learn takes place outside the classroom, so it was important for me to be able to know when to stop studying and go out and do something else,” she said. “I am passionate about travel, so I found that missing a few days of school here and there in order to extend a trip really didn’t make a difference in the long run.”
Currently at UBC Okanagan in sciences, Letkeman is not convinced that’s where she will stay.
“I’m thinking about changing it up next year to explore my other interests, like history,” she said. “I believe that no education is a waste.”
Charles Bloom graduate Taylor Sheardown has always focused on academics as the key to her future success.
“Because I know that they will help me accomplish my goals and shape my future,” she said. “I always knew that I wanted to go to university and for most of my life I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer.
“In order to fulfill these goals I ensure a high level of dedication to my studies.”
Sheardown credits many people for their support and influence, including community members, teachers and family.
“I have had many amazing teachers over the years, but my most influential teacher was Madame Norman. She taught me many important lessons, but the most important lessons had nothing to do with French and everything to do with life. Those are the lessons that will stay with me forever.
“The most supportive and influential people in my life are my parents. They are my greatest role models and I would like to thank my parents for their unending love and support over the years.”
She advises current high school students to take advantage of every opportunity and to learn time management early.
“You will only regret the opportunities that you didn’t seize. As well, for anything in life you will need to manage your time so learn the skill early and put it to use. However, don’t forget to take time for yourself in order to enjoy the best things in life like family and friends.”
Sheardown said balancing academics with her other interests was a constant struggle but she found that dedicating herself to her schoolwork while still remembering to have fun was the best way to manage.
“Whenever I feel burnt out I know that it is time to take a break and have some fun. It could be something as simple as watching a movie or going for coffee with friends.
“Have an activity outside of school that you really enjoy doing. I figure skated for 15 years and that was something I did to have fun and challenge myself. It provided an outlet through which I was able to have fun away from my schoolwork.”
Currently working towards her bachelor of management at UBC Okanagan, Sheardown is eventually planning on obtaining her law degree.
“I am really enjoying the university and my courses are great. I am looking forward to the many years ahead of me that are sure to be filled with incredible experiences.”