Learning clicks ambassador Shannon

This MacEwan University psychology student explains gender expression and some first-year lessons learned.


Learning clicks ambassador Shannon

I grew up in the small town of Sundre where I played a lot of hockey, track and field, baseball and curling. I also was one of those crazy kids that liked school. I’ve always known I wanted to make a difference, so I’ve tried to base my career decisions on what inspires me.

Towards the end of high school, I was inspired by live shows, fireworks, and music, so I decided I wanted to become a lighting, sound and special effects technician. I got involved in my school’s drama production doing lighting and sound, but I was totally bored.

I was back to square one with no idea of what to do after high school. Since I’ve always been passionate about helping people, I decided to study psychology and sociology at the University of Lethbridge. I felt like I was escaping my small town, I could start over and be whoever I wanted to be. I didn’t know what it meant to live on my own or manage my own finances. I had no concept of what it meant to be a “post-secondary student”, and I wasn’t ready.

A few months in I wasn’t enjoying my classes or school in general, I had little incentive to go to school. While I managed to maintain good grades in some classes, no one noticed when I stopped showing up to others altogether. I gave up on studying for exams, and my GPA (Grade Point Average) began to suffer. In university you’re graded on a points system where 4.0 is the highest GPA you can achieve, so a 2.0 is like having a 50% average. After my first year of university my GPA was below 2.0 and I was placed on academic probation (if you’re on academic probation for too long you can be kicked out of school­). I’d given up and didn’t care. It didn’t even occur to me that I was paying to be there (well, my parents were). I was over university, I walked away and never looked back (which, by the way, is not actually how you’re supposed to drop out). I didn’t go through the proper process of withdrawing from my program or talking to an advisor, which caused many problems when I tried to go back. Since I was on academic probation when I left, I was rejected when I applied. I was told by the Registrar’s Office and an advisor that college was my only option if I wanted to be a student again.

My parents had paid for my first year of university and I’d completely blown through all $25,000 of my savings, so my free ride was over. To afford to got to college I applied for student loans and scholarships and lived with my parents to rebuild my savings. I applied to business at Red Deer College, it has taught me about public speaking, economics and development, marketing and finance. My first year of university wasn’t wasted – I was able to transfer almost all my course credits and I was lucky the transfers didn’t include marks.

My business skills that will help in whatever I chose to do. I’m aiming for the non-profit sector. Every time I’ve changed my mind, I’ve moved a little bit closer to toward my end goal of making a difference. Although my path is messy, it is who I am.

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.


The power of belief and being yourself

The power of believing in someone can make such an impact. Knowing that someone believes in you gives you inspiration, motivation and drive to achieve great things and believing in yourself opens a world of possibilities and opportunities.

Belief is where passion and love come from, it gives you meaning, purpose and direction. Belief can inspire you to be the best version of yourself. The people in my life that believe in me kept me going when I wanted to quit, pushed me to be better, and believed in my capabilities even when I didn’t. Slowly I began to believe in myself.

My friend and roller derby teammate Sara saw my potential and believed in me. When I couldn’t afford my dues, Sara paid $300 of my dues. I went on to play for the number 4 ranked team in Canada (the Red Deer Belladonnas), made Team Alberta and tried out for Team Canada. Sara never asked for anything in return other than to pay it forward if I had the opportunity to do so.

Another important person in my life who believed in me was my junior high teacher and mentor, Mrs. B. She was always there for me, and she was the first person outside of my family that I really admired. She was the one who encouraged me to get my business degree which would always be relevant and useful. She also taught me that you don’t have to justify what makes you happy. Mrs. B passed away in 2013 and I commemorated her by getting a tattoo. She had a smiley face tattoo, and now I have one on my right hand as a reminder of the huge impact she had on my life. That tattoo reminds me to inspire and be inspired, to constantly learn and improve and be the best version of myself.

I’m a fan of being different and staying weird, it’s more fun than being normal. Normal is what society tells us is expected of us, it’s a sum of averages and boring. Watch How to Age Gracefully (a CBC video) it has a bunch of different people offering advice to younger people. An 8-year-old urges a 7-year-old that “no matter what anyone says, stay weird,” and near the end a 72-year-old repeats the same advice. In a video dedicated to passing down the wisdom of the ages, ‘staying weird’ is the only piece of advice shared twice. Staying weird is about embracing who you are and not apologizing for your differences.

We all have things that we do, say, wear, think, or own that go against the grain. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or speak what’s on your mind. Chances are others have the same question or opinion. Ask for clarification don’t waste time wondering or never understanding. If you ask the weird questions, you may be surprised by the answers you get, the things you learn and the awesome conversations you start.

Student life

Self-expression be memorable and comfortable

Accessories can be a great form of self-expression. I believe that we should all be empowered to present ourselves to the world in ways that make us feel confident, happy and comfortable. A way to show others who you are. In high school I was known for my hair, sunglasses and bowties. I wear batman bowties to feel super, checkerboard to represent my dorky side or camo because I’m Albertan. I also have a rainbow bowtie that I wear with a purple shirt and rainbow cat shoes, which makes my outfit just as gay (loud and proud) as I am.

Dress codes with double standards drive me nuts. For instance, why is it that some dress codes call for girls to wear skirts and dresses while men get to wear pants? I often challenge dress codes because I don’t dress typically feminine. This is because my gender expression (a form of self-expression) isn’t stereotypically feminine. I see gender as performance – that means you can choose to act masculine, feminine, a mixture of the 2, or perhaps something entirely different. If you put gender on a spectrum, I’m somewhere near the middle. I’m female but I shop in the men’s section and I have short hair. I display qualities and exhibit behaviours that society would define as both 'masculine' and 'feminine'. To learn more about gender identity and expression check out the Genderbread Person.

The point I want to make is that how you choose to express yourself is entirely up to you. Life’s too short to pretend to be someone you’re not. Feeling comfortable gives you confidence. People will remember you based on how you made them feel, not because of what you wore or what you said. If you were comfortable, laid back and happy, you’ll likely make a good impression and people will remember you for the positive atmosphere.

Being memorable is about being genuine and confident. For me, that means creating a gender expression that is true to me, one that encompasses both the masculine and feminine sides of my personality to express to the world who I am.

Being yourself and sharing your story is something you’ll only be able to do if you feel comfortable and safe. The problem is, getting comfortable with people is a gradual process, the more you get to know someone the more you’re willing to share.

I’ve learned a lot about what I need to feel comfortable by telling my story as a Learning Clicks Ambassador. My first presentation I was terrified – I wasn’t sure what to share with complete strangers. Now, I can walk into a classroom full of students I’ve never met and tell any story I want. I’ve come a long way since that first presentation, and I’m proud to say that I’m a confident public speaker.

It just took some time for me to identify what was holding me back. I realized that no one knew or cared if I messed up because it was my story to tell. I also stopped doubting, judging myself and worrying what other people thought. After all, we are our own worst critics. Meeting new people is hard, we need to figure out who they are, what relation they have to us, and what our boundaries are. We might say something just to gauge the other person’s reaction. By testing boundaries in this way, we try to figure out who might become friends and who we’d rather keep at a distance. Think of the words of Dr. Seuss, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.” Seek out supportive relationships to be the person you want to be.

Don’t live in a closet you’re not Harry Potter

I was 16 years old when I realized I like girls. I’ve always been a major tomboy. I used to say, “If I was a lesbian, don’t you think I’d know?” As it turns out, I really didn’t know. It wasn’t that I didn’t know gay people existed, it just never occurred to me that I might be.

My parents were high school sweethearts, and I was raised in a traditional Catholic family. No one in my family is gay. Being gay wasn’t discussed much in health class or sex ed, and when it was people said things like “It’s just a phase, don’t worry about it.” Thankfully, things have changed a lot since high school.

Living in a small town everyone knew everyone and there were certain expectations about how to live your life. You’d go to school, graduate, get a job, date boys, get married, have kids and live happily ever after. That never really felt quite right to me, but I couldn’t explain why. I was attracted to music videos where girls were into girls. It took me awhile to realize the truth. I found it hard to say out loud. “I like girls.” I mean, it’s not a difficult sentence, but I couldn’t bring myself to say it.

I’d spent so long fighting people on it, trying to convince them that I wasn’t. I’d been bullied for so long about it that I didn’t want those people to be right. I felt stupid. I felt like they’d won and saying it out loud would give them even more fuel.

I also worried that I’d lose people’s respect. I thought it would mean no one would take me seriously anymore. I played on an all-girls hockey team; were they all going to hate me or, worse, feel uncomfortable around me?

It wasn’t until I started playing roller derby that I began to feel okay with myself. It just so happens that there are many gay girls in the derby community (it's a really accepting group, no matter your story). Because of the derby community I started to love myself again, and I was able to step outside of the miserable closet I’d been living in.

In Ash Beckham’s TED Talk 'Coming Out of Your Closet' she explains that we all have our closets, those hard conversations that we want to avoid. I relate to Ash because my closet is also rainbow-coloured and often get funny looks when I walk into the girl’s bathroom. Your closet might be telling your parents that you aren’t going to follow in their footsteps, or telling someone you’re pregnant, or declaring bankruptcy. Beckham argues that while we may all have our closets, it’s not okay to live in them. Everyone has a closet, everyone has their story and everyone has their hard conversations. Coming out of the closet as gay was an incredibly hard conversation for me.

My move to Lethbridge for post-secondary helped me. Suddenly I found myself in a new city surrounded by people I didn't know and people that didn't know me. There were no expectations I could start over, be who I wanted to be and do what I wanted to do. Plus, it was an opportunity to connect with likeminded people. The first thing I did was join the Pride on Campus Club. I was no longer the only lesbian in a 100 km radius.


No-stress study tips

  • Set a timeframe that includes breaks and stick to it
    Prioritize your work according to deadlines and allow a set amount of time for each activity, with breaks in between to keep your focus. Only you know what you are capable of and how long you can effectively study for, so take this and your learning style into account to make your workload less overwhelming.
  • Tackle your least favorite first
    If you dread a task, complete it while you’re fresh to reduce the stress of trying to do it when you’re tired.
  • Eat real food and stay hydrated
    What you use to fuel your body effects your academic ability and your mental health. Staying hydrated improves concentration and motor skills, makes us feel less fatigued, and keeps our heart rate and body temperature at an optimal level. Reach for water or tea (try caffeine-free herbal teas) instead of coffee (a diuretic), alcohol (a depressant), juice, or pop (full of high-fructose corn syrup). A diet of ramen and KD doesn’t have the nutrients to support your cognitive ability.
  • Practice good study habits
    Cramming is never a good idea and won’t help you to retain information long-term. Avoid the stress of a late-night cram sessions and allow yourself time to get to know the material. Establish study strategies that support your learning style, usually repetition helps your memory, but you can use flash cards, games, songs, or acronyms.
  • Move your body
    Get up from your desk to move and stretch, do some burpees, run up and down the stairs, or go outside and take a walk. Physical activity boosts your circulation and increases the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain. This helps you focus and be more effective in your studying.
  • Step away from social media
    The longer you spend on social media, the more time you waste and the less you study. Try shutting off your devices or putting them in a different room while you work. Use social media as a reward rather than a distraction and avoid getting sucked into the procrastinator’s vortex.
  • Choose the right soundtrack
    Sometimes the sound of silence can be unnerving, or with noisy roommates you just can’t concentrate. Maybe you find listening to music while studying to be too distracting, but perhaps the right soundtrack could help you get into the zone so you can focus or help you to unwind after a study session. Check out this article on The Best Music for Studying and browse numerous playlists on Google Play Music, Songza, iTunes and YouTube.
  • Practice your superhero stance
    Hear me out: pick a power stance and hold it for 30 seconds. When you hold a power stance you feel powerful and confident, so you’re tricking your brain. Psychological studies show that holding powerful poses triggers the brain to release ‘feel-good’ endorphins that boost confidence. Try this before a job interview, a big test, or even a first date.
  • Watch or read something that makes you smile
    Laughing, smiling, feeling inspired are all ways to release endorphins and enhance concentration. Watching a show/video or reading a book that makes you smile can be a nice break from studying that boosts your mood. It’s scientifically proven that going into a test happy helps you perform better, so get happy.
  • Get a teddy bear
    Not all of us have pets and sometimes you need a cuddle, while genuine human connection is important, sometimes that takes a lot more time and effort than we have. Take a 5-minute teddy snuggle break from your studies then get back to it. They require less attention than humans, they don’t snore and you don’t have to buy them dinner.
  • Treat yourself
    Celebrate accomplishments, big or small, with rewards. Rewards offer an incentive to study, and there’s no shame in a little external motivation. Do something you love, have a special snack, cook a favourite meal, order takeout, or watch your favourite show as a reward for a job well done. Be sure to make time for extra-curricular activities to stay balanced. Doing things you enjoy makes you happy reducing your stress levels and improving your overall mental health. Play sports, go to the gym, be in a play, join a club, or pick up a colouring book (this is a great stress release and can even be a form of self-expression or meditation).
  • Don’t force it
    If you’re not in the right frame of mind to study, don’t. If you force yourself to study when you’re struggling to focus you won’t retain the information. Maybe a good night’s sleep or a good conversation with a friend will serve you better than studying. Don’t shirk your work entirely, just learn to recognize when your mind is elsewhere and attend to whatever is bugging you first. If you need help, ask.

Be a change-maker

I’m sure you can think of plenty of things you’d like to change, or rules you think are unfair. You can get involved and make a difference at your school and in your community, because change begins with individual action.

  • Become a leader, run for student council or be an ambassador
    Being a leader is finding a passion and a purpose to support others, find a common cause. Student council has various roles where you can use your leadership skills. including that of a student advisor. I’m a student ambassador on the Red Deer College student council and part of my role is to meet with faculty and staff to offer a voice for students. I’m also here as a Learning Clicks Ambassador to share my knowledge and experience.
  • Become a camp counsellor, coach or a tutor
    A camp counsellor is a role model for younger kids, you can encourage a new generation to build their confidence, try new things, or treat others with kindness and respect. If you have skills and a passion why not coach and help others. Tutors help individuals. All this experience is perfect for your resume and is gold in a job interview.
  • Perform random acts of kindness or volunteer
    Something as simple as smiling at people, holding a door open, or buying a coffee can make someone’s day. You can motivate others to spread their kindness. Volunteering is a longer-term act of kindness and a great way to make an impact. Deciding who you support is personal, so take the time to find opportunities that align with your interests and passions. That way, you’re more likely to be motivated to participate, and motivation is crucial to making change happen.
  • Find your voice and share your story
    Talk to your academic advisors, student advisors, student council, counsellors, teachers, or family to voice your opinions and share your convictions. Your voice matters. Support others who are trying to be heard. If you like to write, contribute to your campus or community newspaper, or share online. If drama, public speaking, or performance art is for you, you might be a recruiter. You may be surprised at the things you learn and how you can grow just meeting new people.
  • Believe you can make a difference
    Some things may cause controversy and people might tell you not to bother, but chances are these things are worth fighting for. Seek out inspirational stories of other people who have stood up for their beliefs and made positive change. Believe in the power of small, grassroots action to ignite change and believe in yourself!


Learn from other ambassadors or watch these videos:

Alberta Learning Information System (ALIS) resources:

Also visit your learning path to post-secondary.