DMCI grads talk pandemic, priorities, cherishing time

·4 min read

Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute (DMCI) grad Maegan Ilagan remembers one teacher who had a "huge impact" on her. It was Grade 9, and she was feeling overwhelmed. When a test result was lower than a typical grade for her (even though it was still more than 80 per cent) she fell apart.

"I just kind of broke down, was just feeling, like, I don't know why I'm not good enough."

Her math teacher, Ralph Backé, noticed her distress and they talked.

"He was like, 'you know what? You are not a number. Numbers don't define you...all these expectations that are raining on you, don't make them a priority.'"

Instead, he told her, look within for your priorities and your happiness.

Fellow grad Kyle Napiza says he got a similar message from DMCI teacher Brendan Cwik.

"(In his) class I never had to worry about my grades, I just had to worry about what I'm learning and how I can grow as a person."

Ilagan and Napiza are among 288 DMCI grads this year, and among five who came back to the almost 100-year-old school a week after their last class to sit and share some thoughts with STREETS.

They had not yet completed Grade 10 when COVID-19 sent them home in March 2020. For almost all of Grade 11 they were divided into three cohorts and came to school once or twice a week for just two hours. Grade 12 began the same way, but after a month transitioned back to in-person classes.

Ilagan says students joked that June 17—their last day of school—was the "first last day of school since Grade 9," which made it emotional for everyone.

Rae Lee Torino says coming back together after pandemic separation created a closeness among students. She believes that's why, near the end of her last DMCI Maroons basketball team season when spectators were allowed back at games, students rallied behind the team on their road to the provincials. The team competed as far as the quarter-finals and bumped their provincial ranking from sixth to second.

"Everyone was there for every game, it was just a great feeling...the days leading up to our big games, that was just the talk of the whole school and the energy was different," said Torino.

Madeline Wynne says pandemic isolation brought her closer to herself and allowed her to "pause and reflect," and helped her "find things."

One thing she found was how to be kinder to herself—to not live in her head so much and not be so driven to always be doing something.

"I've found things to do to kind of relax myself when things are getting too fast."

Napiza says he also found value in pandemic alone time.

"It helped me appreciate more of the little things. I got to read more books and learn more things about myself."

Allyza Tabirara has also been learning from some light reading—Meditations by the second-century Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius—and says one particular excerpt from the book holds a lesson for high school students.

"Everything you hear is an opinion, not a fact, everything you see is a perspective, not the truth," writes Aurelius, which Tabirara says can apply to students driven to get high marks because they may have been led by others' opinions to falsely believe that anything less will limit their lives.

"Anyone, if they have the will, can do whatever they want," Tabirara says.

All the students agreed that new students should enjoy their time in high school.

"Cherish every year that you have in high school. Everybody says that it goes by really quick, but you don't really realize it until your final year," said Torino, adding that students shouldtake lots of photos and videos to look back on later in life.

"Enjoy the little things (and) make as many memories as possible," said Wynne, whose parents still talk about their shared high school memories.

And be kind, says Ilagan.

"Be kind to's free to be kind, and it's very easy to be kind."

Sean Ledwich, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leaf

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