At first glance, Pierre Trudeau and Tommy Douglas don’t have much in common with five high school students in the North Okanagan.
But along with these well-known Canadians, Nicole Skidmore, Mairead Raupach, Chantelle Foster, Demetre Kontos and May Allan are recipients of the Governor General’s Academic Medal, which is awarded each year to the top graduating students at high schools across the country.
Lord Dufferin, Canada’s third Governor General after Confederation, created the Academic Medals in 1873 to encourage academic excellence across the nation.
Vernon School District trustees presented the 2015 recipients with their medals at the December board meeting.
Clarence Fulton graduate Nicole Skidmore admits she wasn’t overly concerned with academics until she earned a particularly high mark in Grade 8 math.
“I realized that I had the aptitude to do well in school,” she said. “Ever since then my academics have been a huge part of my life and I have strived for a high academic performance in all my classes.
“The overwhelming feeling of gratitude and accomplishment definitely motivates me to achieve a high academic standing. However, it feels like I’ve found my niche when it comes to academics and I think that’s why they are ultimately so important to me.”
Now in her second semester at UBC Okanagan, Skidmore is grateful to her parents for their support, cheering her on whether she earned an A or a B.
“They have never made me feel like I needed to do well in school. As long as I was happy so were they,” she said, also giving credit to her “amazing” teachers Patti Harison and Mr. Schratter. Patti Harison was and still is a role model to me. Mr. Schratter has also been a huge influence/support in my life. He never failed to challenge me, and continually pushed me to try harder questions. I have him to thank for my success in university calculus.”
Now working towards a bachelor of science degree, Skidmore said on receiving her first semester transcript, she was pleasantly surprised to discover she had made it on to the dean’s list.
With plans to major in biochemistry, she hopes to get into medical school with the ultimate goal of becoming either a pediatric surgeon or a neurosurgeon.
“I know that I have a long road ahead of me but I couldn’t be more excited to be going down it,” she said.
W.L. Seaton graduate Chantelle Foster gives full credit to her parents, Mark and Mirjam Foster, for their unwavering support throughout her education.
“I have been encouraged throughout my life, by my family and teachers, to always try my best at everything I do, especially academically,” she said. “Due to starting school a year early I always felt that I had to prove that I could do well in school and get good grades because I was always the youngest. This extra push encouraged me to prioritize my education, to know that it was important to my future.
“My parents have been by my side throughout my education. Along with my three brothers, who have always been there to support me through my academics; they make up my core support group.
“Another aspect of my life that has always been there for me is my faith. I am grounded in my Catholic faith; without it I wouldn’t be the person I am today. God has always been there to listen, to lean on when I needed some grounding and direction, as well as by my side to celebrate my accomplishments.”
Academics have always been important to Foster, who gives credit to her teachers, in both elementary and secondary school, for their influence and the role they’ve played in shaping who she is today.
“Ms. Bouchard, Mrs. O’Brien and Mr. Britton are only a few of the many wonderful teachers I have had the pleasure of being taught by,” she said. “They didn’t just teach me academically but they also taught me life lessons that I have found especially useful. Finally, my friends have been by my side all through high school and were always there to support me.”
Foster said her fondest memories of high school are the time she spent in the theatre and in leadership class. The theatre is where she learned a wide variety of skills, as well as had the pleasure of being involved in a number of the productions put on by the 27th St. Theatre.
“Being a part of this theatre family provided me with an environment where I could be myself,” she said. “Involvement with the leadership class opened many doors for me and helped me understand the importance and qualities of a good leader. As well, it provided me with volunteer opportunities within the school and community.”
Currently at Simon Fraser University where she is taking both criminology and anthropology classes, Foster is planning on earning a joint major.
“My plans for the future at this point in time would be to become a forensic anthropologist, but who knows what the future has in store.”
From a very young age, Kalamalka graduate Mairead Raupach took her education seriously.
“I was always striving to achieve my personal best and was competitive against myself,” she said. “I think that is what instilled my drive to succeed academically.”
Raupach credits her family as well as her teachers at Kal for their support.
“My parents were always helpful and supportive of me in making sure I could succeed at whatever I wanted to achieve. Also my older siblings helped to influence my drive and academic success,” she said. “The teachers at Kalamalka were also passionate in making sure their students succeeded to the best of their abilities.”
From good friends, to musical productions, Raupach takes many fond memories from high school.
“Most of my stand-out memories from high school have had to do with the great friends that I made over the years and the time I spent with them,” she said. “In addition, I loved the time I spent in the Applebox Theatre musical productions.”
Currently at UBC in Vancouver, Raupach is busy working towards her science undergraduate degree, with a possible focus on biology. Her future plans include either pharmacy or something in the health care field.
From a young age, Vernon secondary graduate and grad class valedictorian Demetre Kontos has always strived to excel in school.
“Regardless of whether it was in art class or in science class, I have always enjoyed learning and have always pushed myself to do better,” he said. “While academics have always been important, I would struggle to say that they were the most important thing in my life.
“As cheesy as it may sound, family, friends and my own happiness have always been my priorities.”
Kontos gives credit to family, friends and teachers for their kind support and believes that having parents who encouraged him to be himself, to do what makes him happy and who did not pressure him, was crucial to his academic success.
“In the same way, having close friends like the ones I have helped shape me into the person I am today and in many ways, I owe my happiness to them,” he said. “Teachers, of course, have always played a very influential role in my education, as they have been some of the most inspiring and caring people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.”
Some of Kontos’ fondest memories of high school are those with his friends, whether it was attending We Day, helping at school events or going to Quebec for the YMCA Summer Work Student Exchange.
“I loved being involved in student voice, leadership and volunteering in the community, and I encourage students to pursue their passions outside the classroom,” he said.
Now studying history and political science at the University of Ottawa in French immersion, Kontos said making the decision to begin his post-secondary education in the nation’s capital is the best decision he has ever made.
“I have not only learned a lot about myself, but I have made amazing friends and memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life,” he said. “Perhaps I will pursue my passion for history, activism or helping others.”
While Kontos hasn’t yet made any career decisions this early in his post-secondary education, he has some advice for those still in high school.
“I would strongly encourage those still in high school to challenge their fears and explore,” he said. “Whether that exploring be moving across the country to go to school, go traveling or simply moving to another city, is up to you. It may be daunting, but everything will work out in the end because life truly is what you make it.”
Charles Bloom graduate May Allan has always believed in taking pride in anything she invests her time into, including academics.
“For the time that was spent invested in to academics, they were of course very important to me,” she said. “Academics allowed me to push myself towards achievement and taught me how rewarding it is to meet even the smallest of goals.”
Allan said there is a long list of people to whom she is grateful for their influence over the years.
“Family first and foremost — they’ve only ever wished the best for me and have always been fully accepting of my choices,” she said. “There’s also an abundance of teachers that have helped shape me into the person I am — Ms. Janzen, Mr. Kersey, Mrs. Reinholcz, Skulls, Mr. Kuhn, Mrs. Boyles, Madame, Geordy Reid, Mr. Out and many, many others.
“In addition, I’m thankful for the friends — forgotten and forever — that have been both negative and positive influences.”
Allan gives particular credit to her dad and thanks him for all of their little life chats over the years.
“I’ve brought up some pretty crazy ideas, ones which I wouldn’t dare suggest to anyone else for fear of judgment, but no matter what he always takes what I have to say with a smile,” she said. “His perspective has always been in my benefit with only understanding, acceptance and then eagerness to continue discussing my ideas. He’s one of my biggest role models.”
Some of Allan’s fondest high school memories include leadership, We Day, listening to good music in wood shop while creativity ran wild, relaxing yet mind-boggling art classes, connecting with teachers who became role models, and laughs with friends, to name just a few.
Allan has relocated to Kelowna to take a dip into adulthood while considering her options for the future and is currently working full-time as a server at Delhi Cuisine & Bar and saving up for her next great adventure — it’s in line with the plan she has always had to take time off prior to post-secondary.
“Being out of high school has allowed me to focus on what brings me joy and who I am as a person,” she said. “Right now I’m looking into graphic design, but I also wish to continue studies in other arts and English.
“Not long ago there was a group that came into the restaurant for lunch — teachers or school representatives I believe. While serving them, I was intrigued by their conversation. They were discussing how they’d seen so many students go straight from high school to university, be stressed, trying to focus on a career they’d chosen with little knowledge of themselves, only to come out unhappy and find they didn’t even have the career they wanted.
“However, they’d then seen students who had taken a year or two off, experienced life a little, and then directed themselves into the right career with a whole different energy.
“My plan is to find my happiness, then to give all I got into pursuing the career I was meant to and obtaining the career I know I will love.”