Arts grads (2): Where are they now?

Gabe Pietrzak, Nancy Weng and Violet Patrich are high school graduates from Archbishop Carney regional high school, Pinetree and Dr. Charles Best secondaries.  - PHOTOS OF PIETRZAK AND PATRICH SUBMITTED/PHOTO OF WENG BY Anne Huang
Gabe Pietrzak, Nancy Weng and Violet Patrich are high school graduates from Archbishop Carney regional high school, Pinetree and Dr. Charles Best secondaries.

For the past three years, The Tri-City News has talked to more than a dozen recent high school graduates about their dreams of making it big in the arts. The interviews formed part of a series called Bright Young Things and highlighted the top creative students just as they were to leave for their post-secondary education. Last month, The News caught up with six of the local grads featured to see how they are faring. Here are our final three:




Two years ago, Gabe Pietrzak had what  seemed to be a double life.

He had a non-traditional appearance for someone at Tri-Cities’ only Catholic high school, with stretched piercings in both ear lobes, a tattoo on his arm and a ring below his lip. As the lead guitarist, co-songwriter and manager for a pop/rock band, Pietrzak said his tough look was for show.

But he had a softer side, too.

He told The News liked all music genres — including classical and jazz — and planned to pursue a four-year music diploma at Vancouver Community College to become a music teacher for high school kids.

His vision then remains the same today.

Now a guitar teacher and regular college band performer, Pietrzak has ended VCC’s jazz/contemporary guitar diploma program — clinching this and last year’s CHQM and music scholarships for outstanding achievements — and, come September, he’ll be in the VCC bachelor of applied music program.

Teaching and playing music are his greatest gifts and he advises future SD43 grads to stay true to themselves.

“Pursue your dreams and be persistent in achieving them. Don’t give up and never lose hope. Keep trying and learn from your mistakes or disappointments. Take every challenge and make it a learning experience. This will make you stronger and successful.”




Nancy Weng had a sad story to tell when she sat down with The News in the summer of 2011.

The Taiwan native talked about her passion for dance and her struggle to make it thus far.

As a child, she quit dance twice after being rejected by her middle and high school dance programs. And so, at the age of 17, she immigrated with her family to Canada with one goal in mind: to succeed in dance.

It wasn’t an easy road here, either.

She enrolled at Pinetree secondary half way through the year; language barriers were also difficult to overcome.

However, with the encouragement from teachers Nicole Roberge and Natalee Fera, Weng soon found her wings. She excelled in the school’s fine arts courses and was asked to choreograph numbers.

With boosted confidence, she eventually moved into the regular English classes, too, rather than ESL.

Then, the new grad said she had hoped to become a professional choreographer.

And after two years in which “I was lost and almost gave up,” Weng reapplied and got into every school she wanted.

Now, Weng is in the contemporary dance program at Montreal’s Concordia University.

“I am appreciative of every moment that I have been through in my life,” Weng said, adding, “It has been 18 years that I have spent time with dance — almost my whole life. I wouldn’t be me without it. I guess the only moment could truly make me feel free and alive is on stage when dance and I become one.”

For the class of 2014, Weng wants to make this clear: Nothing is impossible.

“Don’t set a limit to yourself. When you have a goal, just follow the direction but let go of the target at the same time. This is a way to find joy of the path. Have faith that luck is created by your own attitude.

“Keep a positive attitude because it will create the fate that is closest to your dream.”




In July 2012, visual artist Violet Patrich voiced her displeasure with SFU.

She got accepted into its contemporary arts program but didn’t have high enough grades to get into the Burnaby institution itself.

And so, half-heartedly, she registered in Douglas College’s psychology and women’s studies, hoping to work on her craft on the side.

At the time of the interview, Patrich was being praised for her original art, displaying strong images at Emerging Talent XV (the annual SD43 art show at Evergreen Cultural Centre) as well as gaining accolades for her recycled fashion statements (she created a dress with 2,700 bus fare passes).

Her dream was to have a career at Vogue as a photographer.

As it turned out, Patrich finished her first year at Douglas “but I always knew art was my passion,” she said, “so I applied to Emily Carr University.”

Her first year at the art school in Vancouver was “absolutely awesome,” she said, adding she doesn’t regret her undergrad year at Douglas.

“I got a taste of the college experience and I got some credits out of the way so I could focus on my other classes,” Patrich said.

Now, Patrich is part of a vibrant arts scene and around fellow creative thinkers and doers, which has helped to shape her future.

She not only wants to graduate but also to savour every moment of college life, she said.

And after graduation? Vogue, she said, is still in the cards “but, honestly, if I could get any kind of job in my field, I’d be happy.”

For this year’s SD43 grad class, Patrich has these nuggets of advice: “Sometimes it seems as though you have to pick what career you want before you graduate high school but you don’t.

“Don’t be afraid to take time to explore and find what interests you because you may not find it in high school.”





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