Two graduating high school students from Saanich are sharing their stories in hopes that others in a similar situation could possibly benefit from them.
Madolyn Simon of Reynolds secondary and Celina Whitney of Claremont secondary, both in Grade 12, have experienced similar tales of hardship in their lives. They are among 80 recipients of a $5,000 scholarship from the Horatio Alger Association of Canada, an organization that awards need-based scholarships to high school students who have overcome adversity and are seeking a post-secondary education.
To qualify, they each opened up in winning essays that detailed their pasts and their future ambitions. It’s not an easy thing to do. But when Whitney read about Alger’s background, she found a lot in common with the themes Alger wrote about in his 19th century American literature, albeit a lot of it about poor young men who attain a middle class adulthood.
“Growing up as a little girl in Vancouver my dad wasn’t around, I often slept in my mom’s bed and we took in borders to pay the rent,” Whitney recalled. “When we moved to Victoria I was five and I slept on a mattress (on the floor) for a year before I had a bed [frame].”
Whitney is deeply beholden to her mother, who works three jobs. Today she lives with her mother, brother and grandparents. Her mother not only raised her but has been supportive of her half-brother too, a boy who came along with the relationship when Whitney’s mom met her father, she said. Whitney also remains in close contact with her half-sibling. It’s something that Madolyn Simon knows all about.
Simon first lived in 100 Mile House and has relocated 28 times in her first 17 years. Her dad first went to prison when Simon was about seven years old. Her little brother was four, her sister six.
“[That time] we never told my brother and sister where he was going,” Simon said.
Drugs became a recurring trend, and so were prison terms, but that didn’t stop Simon from wanting to connect with him.
“It was hard, I do have my grandfather in my life, but it’s natural to want to connect with your own father, you want that figure in your life,” Simon said. “The second time he was in prison I made a big trip to visit him on Father’s Day.”
In the mean time Simon became closer with her half sisters, who she is still close with.
But eventually, Simon grew angry and shut her father out.
“I would let people think he was away working in Alberta,” Simon said. “I had one friend, she only knew some of it. I used to fear the judgment of what others thought.”
Through it all Simon’s mom left it up to her kids to decide how they would connect with their dad.
“She supported us, she didn’t tell us we couldn’t connect,” Simon said. “My best advice is not to be angry, it stops you from being happy, it stops you from living your life.”
Simon is hoping to get accepted into Trent’s bachelor of political science with an eye on law after that. Whitney, who works regularly with kids at 4-Cats art studio in Uptown, is looking at becoming an elementary teacher.
“Instead of being anxious at 12, it was at six years old,” Whitney said. “I guess I’ve come through that, I feel like I’m in a good place. I know what I want in life.”