Mt. Sentinel student wins prestigious academic scholarship

·4 min read

A Slocan Valley high school student from Passmore has been accepted into one of Canada’s most prestigious scholarship programs.

Tala MacDonald, a 17-year-old student at Mt. Sentinel Secondary, learned of her successful Loran Award application a few weeks ago.

“I was in shock for several days,” she recalls. “I got the phone call at school, and I had to wait all day to tell my parents. My mom screamed – she was really happy. They were really supportive and amazing through the whole process.”

The Loran Award can be worth more than $100,000, and provides undergrad tuition and living expenses to about 30 students annually to pursue their academic careers. Besides having an inside track to one of 25 top Canadian universities, Loran scholars also receive mentoring and summer job opportunities.

“It’s really opened up a lot of doors to me that I wouldn’t have necessarily had the ability to pursue,” she says. “I am so grateful I am included in that community.

“Even more than the financial aspects, it’s incredible the connections you can make… speaking to other scholars, they talk about the lifelong connections they made with mentors and classmates that have helped them throughout life.”

The Loran Scholars Foundation (Loran stands for Long Range Aid to Navigation, an oblique reference to the selection criteria) chooses applicants not so much on their academic success – though that’s important – but rather based on the values of character, service and leadership.

MacDonald beat out more than 6,000 other students to win the award in a grueling (but “fun,” she says) selection process. However, her character is ultimately what got her through the process, says a news release from Tala’s school district, SD 8.

“When it comes to serving one’s community, Tala’s strength of character and commitment to helping others is nothing short of exemplary,” says the release. “She demonstrates this as a volunteer firefighter and medical first responder in her community, as a team leader for environmental initiatives at her school, and through her involvement in an international service and intercultural learning project, where she helped build homes in Oaxaca, Mexico for impoverished families.”

“There were so many amazing candidates, I was so honoured they chose me,” MacDonald told the Valley Voice. “But I am really passionate about helping, trying to make a difference in any way I can.

“I volunteer in my community as much as I can, but I really want to do more in the future, and it’s kind of my guiding direction about what I want to do post-secondary and as a career.”

She’s still completing grade 12, but MacDonald has been accepted to Montreal’s McGill University, where she initially plans to take a general Arts degree, and see where her academics lead her from there.

“I’m hoping to study political science, and potentially, further down the line, maybe law,” she says. “I’m in a four-year program and we’ll see where that takes me. And I’m really excited to just learn everything I can and get involved in a myriad of initiatives and opportunities.”

It’s all still a bit of a dream to MacDonald, as a youth from a small town who successfully beat out thousands of other students for the scholarship. And she says adjusting to life and learning in a big city is going to be a challenge.

But she says her story can be a lesson to other students in rural areas.

“I would say don’t be afraid to go for it, to apply. I had no expectations whatsoever that I would get even a semi-final interview,” she says. “I think oftentimes there’s the belief that living in such a small area, we have limited opportunities when it comes to this sort of thing.

“But I think in a lot of ways that’s not completely true. There’s a lot of benefits that come from living in a small area – the community mindedness, the different set of experiences that can really shape you as a person that might benefit you.

“So don’t be afraid to apply. Go for it! Nothing bad can come of it.”

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice