I never knew what I could accomplish until I entered university and realized I held the key to my own success. I was born in Red Deer and raised in Grande Prairie. I was the youngest in my family and I was motivated to exceed the sports and academic successes of my brothers.
My life changed when I was 12 years old, I had surgery to remove a portion of my intestines to correct a chronic stomach disorder. My health required that I move to St. Paul’s Academy for online learning. Grade 6 was awesome, I could sleep in late every day, have a home-cooked lunch and play video games while doing class activities. I was an A+ student, but then I started to care more about my kill-to-death ratio in Call of Duty than my grades. School was boring, and video games were fun. Looking back, I can safely say I didn’t have my priorities in order. I realized I didn’t have a future in gaming, so I talked to a guidance counsellor to help me plan for university.
The freedom of online learning played a major role in helping me graduate. I was able to take a more diverse stream of classes than my friends in traditional school, and I worked at my own pace so I could get things completed faster. I had a lot of time to make up for, so the staff at my school helped me build a learning plan that integrated my love for video game design with high school credits.
Every Monday morning I’d wake up, check my emails, and download the weekly lessons. Once I had a schedule, I’d work away at the core subjects. When I started to feel overwhelmed, the self-designed courses gave me a break. I knew I couldn’t handle certain courses, like Math and Biology 30, so I mapped out a plan that allowed me to graduate with applied courses (I planned on upgrading at a post-secondary institution afterwards). In my final semesters I took English 30-1, Math 30 Applied, Social Studies 30-2, Foods, and the self-designed courses that integrated my hobbies into my schooling.
I managed to graduate and was accepted to start Open Studies at Mount Royal University (MRU) the following fall semester. Working independently and managing procrastination in high school prepared me for university, it wasn’t a big transition for me. University was amazing finally I had a physical person to talk to about things I didn’t understand. Socially the transition was a little more difficult – read student life below.
My career path wasn’t clear, but my family had a history in oil and gas. I knew my dad would be proud if I worked in his field of science and technology, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t what I truly wanted. Read the explore section below.
While in Open Studies I discovered I had a fascination with journalism so, after upgrading and working to save some money, I applied to the journalism program at Mount Royal. At the interview I realized I was short one high school credit and didn’t get in. This failure was devastating, but I wasn’t going down without a fight! I re-applied as a mature student the following year and was accepted.
Since becoming a full-time student I’ve made the Dean’s list every semester, and the President’s list 3 years in a row. My journey has had its ups and downs, but I’ve learned that failure can help me determine my strengths. I now use my fears empower me to become a better version of myself. Right now, my biggest challenge is deciding what to do after university, but I have no doubts that the answer will become clear in due time.
Alberta ran this peer-developed program from 2007 until 2019. Ambassadors blogged and visited classrooms to inspire students to plan their post-secondary journey. These ambassadors are now in the workforce but their stories can still inspire continuous education.
My family had 3 generations in oil and gas
My first plan when I was little was to work at my happy place, McDonald’s, but I realized it wasn’t a financially stable career. My parents were relieved when I scrapped that plan. My next ideas ranged from doctor to retail manager and at one point I even wanted to be Royal Canadian Air Force pilot to fly around the world
When I finally got to the point of applying for post-secondary, I’d settled on entering the oil and gas industry as a software engineer to follow in my family’s footsteps. My father’s uncle and most of my aunts and uncles worked around the globe in oil and gas and my father had 35 years with an oil and gas company. It worked for everybody else, so I figured it’d work for me.
I decided on engineering because I didn’t want a manual labour job. Engineering seemed like a relatively safe job that would be an interesting career path and please my family. My dad always wanted me to have a fulfilling career, but after starting university, I was miserable taking math and science courses. I realized I really wanted to help others. I talked to my dad about it. He wanted me to do what made me happy, not what made the most amount of money or pleased the family. He just wanted me to be excited about work. He’d worked hard to ensure that I could follow any path I wanted.
This realization ushered in a new age of soul searching, and I was back to the drawing board. What was different this time around was that I was evaluating what I wanted. I chose to study journalism and communications at MRU because journalists help others by spreading knowledge through a wide range of mediums, and a communications degree goes a long way in a world with rapidly advancing technology.
I knew that I’d finally made the right decision after starting back at university, my journalism classes rarely felt like a chore. I loved every moment of my first year, and I continue to find inspiration. Not only am I happy with what I’m doing, but my family supports me every day, they are proud that I found something I love to do. I don’t regret flip flopping for years because it was those hard choices that made me realize what I really want out of life.
How I learned to talk about mental illness
When I was in high school my parents and teachers were always droning on about homework, planning for post-secondary and trying to control my social life. Back then, my brothers were already out in the working world making money and I thought they had it made. They could stay up late and party all night or travel to Las Vegas. I, on the other hand, was headed to university. As I got closer to graduation, I hoped I would be set free. I figured leaving high school would be the beginning of the best time of my life. But that’s not exactly what happened. I had a tough first year, but fortunately, I was able to build a supportive community at my school and learn some important lessons about mental health.
I had hopes of making a bunch of new friends at school, but I found it hard to meet people, and this led to my first real experience with depression. My life was nothing like my brother’s lives and I felt alone. I found a job near school and my co-workers were other students, I no longer felt isolated. In my second year I found myself paying more attention in class and to our campus community. That’s when I learned the difference between mental health and mental illness.
Mental health is simply the spectrum of how you feel about yourself in your own mind. It could be positive or negative. There are lots of things that you can do to boost your mental health.
Mental illness, sometimes called psychiatric disorders, can range from an anxiety disorder to schizophrenia, but the Canadian Mental Health Association states that all mental illnesses can be treated. See if your school has a wellness centre for resources.
I think the most dangerous thing we can do as a society is avoid talking about mental illness, because this just keeps people in the dark and prevents them from getting the help they need. This almost happened to me, my mental health could have easily developed a mental illness. I was lucky I had built a supportive community of my co-workers and family, but the school counsellor or psychologist is another option. Getting help saves lives.
My greatest enemy is time. When I was in high school, I thought my only option was to complete my university degree in 4 years, but that wasn't the case for me. I wanted a high GPA (grade point average) but taking a full course load left me feeling exhausted and depressed. I made it through my first year, but in my second, I ended up taking more classes than what was typically recommended as a maximum.
By November I was a wreck; I needed to drop one of my classes. In post-secondary you’re allowed to withdraw from classes before a certain deadline and you won’t be penalized (meaning it won’t damage your GPA). Sure, I ended up with an ugly “W” on my transcripts, but it seemed prettier than the inevitable “F” if I failed the class. I was relieved dropping that class, I didn’t have to graduate in the expected 4-year period. I no longer felt like I was racing to the finish line.
Nobody has the same post-secondary learning experience. Some people pursue the same degree for six or seven years, others might take a 2-year program or multiple degrees over seven years. Everybody has a different life, aspirations, strengths, limitations and time demands, so know your limits.
You are in full control of your future, find the post-secondary plan that works for you. For me taking fewer classes meant I could maintain my composure and perform better.
Learn from other ambassadors or watch these videos:
Alberta Learning Information System (ALIS) resources:
Also visit your learning path to post-secondary.
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