Shyam Subramanyam has always had a passion for helping Canadians close the income gap.
It is an issue the Aurora student has tackled as a Grade 10 in the Global Leadership Program at Newmarket’s Pickering College, and, on Friday, it was an issue he took directly to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Last week, Shyam was selected by Marc de la Bastide, Pickering College’s Co-Curricular Director, to take part in a Student Budget Consultation with Ms. Freeland and eleven other students from across Ontario hosted by CIVIX, a non-partisan organization dedicated to building active and engaged citizenship among young Canadians.
It was a chance for teens to speak directly to the decision-makers on the issues that matter to them and, for Shyam, the issue he wanted to bring to the Deputy Prime Minister’s attention was clear.
“I feel too often the youth don’t get their voice,” he says. “We are so focused and everybody talks about how the youth are the future, the youth should be prepared to take on the world because, after the next generation leaves, it is up to us to do this. If we don’t have a voice and we don’t get a say in what we want to do now, there is no point in doing that. One of the most important things [teacher Joshua] Armstrong told me was about the environment. There is so much we need to do to create jobs, we need youth to study well, but there is no point if you don’t have an environment to live in. You can’t have a home if your house is on fire.
“Each of us had about two minutes [and I thought] ‘what’s the best way I could encapsulate all my thoughts?’ I was thinking about rising house prices, the rising cost of tuition and student loans, and I was also thinking about the environment. How can I, as a student, express all these issues into one topic? That is why I decided on income inequality and the future of our youth. Through this, I was able to mention the growing concerns of debt and the main ideas that I actually ended up suggesting were plans to reduce the cost of tuition and increase financial aid to offer more education-based opportunities. Furthermore, I also suggested a new plan where the government actually gives the banks more financial support to offer lower mortgages, lower interest rate mortgages for university students that have just graduated, allowing them to actually build generational wealth through acquiring assets such as homes.”
Speaking his mind on the topic, Shyam said he found a Deputy Prime Minister who was “so receptive and understanding” on the issues close to students’ hearts.
“She gave us all respect and she treated us as if we were other Members of Parliament; she didn’t treat us like we were children, she treated us like we were equals and I though that was completely evident in the way she would give feedback.”
For teachers, Shyam’s enthusiasm to participate in public life came as no surprise. In fact, it was one of the main reasons he stood out as a prime student to put forward for this opportunity.
“As a faculty member, to hear one of our students articulate what is going on with the budget process really means a lot to me because this is the type of student and type of character we’re looking to build at Pickering College,” says Mr. Armstrong, Shyam’s academic advisor. “As someone who teaches civics and social sciences, these are issues that we care about, giving the kids an opportunity to articulate.
“Being a global leader and making changes in the world around you [is about] being able to understand how things work so that you know the different places in society you can get involved in and make change, and to be open to sit and listen and understand new perspectives. Shyam walked out of that meeting and he understood [from other students’ presentations] things about the North and broadband [in Indigenous communities] that maybe he never would have had the opportunity to understand.”
Indeed, the issue of broadband in remote communities has provided Shyam with plenty of food for thought.
“For me, during these past few weeks of learning from home, I have been able to log onto school from 8.30 a.m. until school ends without any worries of my Wi-Fi cutting out. I can access all the material, high speed, high quality, I am able to perform to the best of my ability. However, there are so many communities that don’t have access to this and it is really hindering their ability to succeed in this pandemic world.
“I believe that in every single person there’s an ounce of greatness, but for that greatness to come out, like sapping a tree, we need to give them the opportunities and the chances for them to actually shine. I feel like I want to do more advocacy and more research into the actual implications of income and what policy changes we can make to offer more educational opportunities and to help people reach their best potential.”
Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran