Courtney Woo, Casey Hesketh, Brooke Ritchey, Daniel Chow and Adrian Fezatte have joined a group of well-known Canadians that includes Pierre Trudeau, Tommy Douglas, Kim Campbell and Gabrielle Roy.
All five are 2013 Vernon School District graduates who have earned the Governor General’s Academic Medal, which recognizes the outstanding scholastic achievements of students in Canada, and awarded to the student graduating with the highest average.
Vernon secondary school graduate Daniel Chow said academics have always been important to him.
“Though some younger people may have associated the act of pursuing money as something as shallow, using the overly used phrase that ‘money can’t buy happiness,’ others understand that money does exactly that. If I had more money I could support my family, visit my distant friends, and spend more time with my own personal hobbies. Academics are important to me because it’s the clearest path to a more comfortable future.”
He said while family members and teachers supported him throughout high school, it was his friends who had the biggest influence on him.
“I am a fairly competitive person, so the biggest motivation was to try to beat my friends in everything we did. Whether it was sports, games or school I would always try harder if my friends were there too. My grades were most likely a side effect from that.”
His fondest memories come from spending every day with friends and advises current high school students to branch out and not focus 100 per cent on academics.
“Unless you’re lucky, life will get harder after high school. You should focus in class and have as much fun as you can when out of class.”
Narrowing down some of his fondest memories to one event, Chow points to the Junior Achievement Titan Global Challenge in Delaware.
“I played soccer barefooted with people from across the globe, talked for an entire night, and met some of the most amazing people I have ever met.”
Now at his co-op job in Toronto working for a company called Doublethink Inc., Chow returns to school in the spring, where he is in the computer engineering program at the University of Waterloo.
Charles Bloom graduate Casey Hesketh said she always pushed herself to do her best, viewing assignments and classes as an opportunity to meet a challenge. Yet she said she wasn’t motivated by good grades, it was simply the joy of learning.
“I have this overall need to know as much as possible about the subjects I am passionate about,” she said. “I’ve always been curious, and I’ve always wanted to acquire as much knowledge as I can.”
Hesketh appreciates the support she received from both family and teachers.
“I’ve had so many amazing teachers over the years. My French teacher, Madame Norman, not only taught me to love a whole new language, but also taught me that going that extra mile can make a difference,” she said. “I have never met anyone more passionate about what she does than her.
“Then I had teachers like Mr. Kopy and Ms. Winston that supported my love for writing and expanded it by making English a fun, sometimes bizarre, class. I owe a big thanks to every teacher, because every one of them had to deal with me constantly putting up my hand because I had something to say or ask.”
Some of Hesketh’s fondest memories are also what she looks back on as the most mundane: sitting in the sun with her friends as the guys toss a Frisbee around, or practising volleyball with her teammates.
“But I also loved my three-month exchange in France, where I happened to become best friends with a French girl, as well as gain another whole family and culture.
“There’s one key ingredient that make these memories meaningful to me, and that’s friendship. High school wouldn’t have been what it was for me if I didn’t have my friends there to laugh with me, but mostly at me.”
After a semester at UBCO, Hesketh realized what she had previously assumed: writing is the path she wants to take in life and is looking towards the writing and publishing program at Okanagan College.
“My dream is to have my name on bookshelves around the world, but I want to get into editing before I try to make that leap,” she said. “On top of that, I hope my future includes traveling back to Europe so that I can not only build upon my knowledge of French, but any other language that comes my way as well. I want to experience as much as possible so that when I write my novels I’m overwhelmed with the amount of stories I have to tell.”
W.L. Seaton graduate Brooke Ritchey said when she looks back on her time at school, she wonders why she put so much pressure on herself to attain good grades.
“Looking back, I don’t really understand why,” she said. “I mean, how important is it for a nine-year-old to get good marks? I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself to do well academically but also, I’ve always just really liked school and learning new things.”
With the support of her parents, Ritchey has been able to succeed in her goals without compromising her happiness.
“Whenever I’m stressed about something, they remind me to see the bigger picture and just relax,” she said.
Now in the arts faculty at UBC in Vancouver, Ritchey said the transition to post-secondary education has been a smooth one.
“University wasn’t a shock to my system because I’d always involved myself in so many activities that I was used to having to really schedule all my time.”
Her fondest memories of high school come from the theatre.
“There’s this really close bond that everyone has with each other there, regardless of what grade they’re in or who their friends are,” she said. “Putting on those plays was always a really fun time.”
As the big city doesn’t appeal to her as much as she hoped it would, Ritchey is transferring back to the Okanagan this fall, where she plans on majoring in political science, followed by law school.
Kalamalka secondary graduate Courtney Woo follows in the footsteps of her brother, Jeremy, also a Governor General award recipient. Academics have always played a large role in her life.
“I think everyone who has ever known me can vouch for that,” she said. “It’s important because education is a massive privilege and we, as students, need to be aware of that.
“Doing well academically, when I was younger, meant I would get into a good university and ultimately get a good job.”
But Woo said her perspective has changed thanks to the incredible teachers who have taught her that academic achievement means more than just a good job.
“Academics provide us with a million different viewpoints on life. We’re taught to see the world from the view of historians, teachers, scientists, thespians, apprentices, artists and so many more all at once,” she said.
Woo credits her family for their support, by making sure she had access to the best opportunities and by looking out for her.
“However, there are many friends who have helped me come out of my shell and realize my full potential in life,” she said. “I’m so fortunate to have gone to Kalamalka secondary for my education.”
But anyone who knows Woo knows her achievements extend far beyond the classroom and that her love of curling is always at the top of her list of favourite activities.
“These girls (and my male coach) helped me realize that anything is possible which not only helped me on the ice, but also academically. Every single one of these people has created this life that’s been handed to me on a silver platter, and I can’t begin to thank them enough for that.”
Now at UBCO and pursuing a B.Sc., Woo advises current secondary students to work hard but to also take some time away from academics, to get involved in a sport or a club.
“High school goes by fast, so immerse yourself in it. I mentioned to a girl who started high school last fall to ‘make sure you miss it when you leave.’ Otherwise, the journey wasn’t worth it at all.”
Fulton principal Ken Gatzke said Adrian Fezatte was a consistent top performer throughout his time at the school.
“Like lots of students, he didn’t just take a soft course load, he took an impressive course load,” said Gatzke. “He was a provincial scholarship winner. Adrian is all about learning, not just for himself, but for others.”
(Editor’s note: now at the University of Victoria, Adrian Fezatte was unavailable for this story.)