Inspiring. Engaged. Optimistic.
Youth of today are already envisioning a positive blueprint to help shape the future of Canada – and Ottawa – over the next 50 years.
“Because this is Canada’s sesquicentennial, we thought that it was a good time to talk and think about what the future of Canada holds, and the role of young people in that future,” said Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans.
She invited high school students living in the ward to write about Canada’s future for her second-annual essay writing contest, judged by Hydro Ottawa and the South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre.
Many of the entries Deans’ office received zeroed in on the environment, technology and diversity.
“It’s indicative to me of that generation, that they’ve grown up with multiculturalism and diversity and concern for the environment. It comes through in the essays loud and clear,” she said during her annual New Year’s levee open house at the Greenboro Community Centre on Jan. 8, where the first, second and third place essay contest winners were announced.
In launching her second edition of the contest, she wanted to hear from young people about the role they plan to take in moving their communities — Ottawa and Canada — forward.
“They’re so optimistic for the future,” Deans said.
Blossom Park resident Elijah Robert, who is in Grade 10 at St. Francis Xavier Catholic High School in Riverside South, won the top prize of $1,000 from Hydro Ottawa for his reflection on the past 50 years through the eyes of his maternal grandparents and his hopes for the next five decades.
“I wanted to have my voice heard,” the 15-year-old said of entering the contest. “Writing essays is not my favourite thing, but when I saw the subject on this I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to say.”
Just a few weeks before entering, he did a history project about his grandparents, Pamela and Dennis Rebello, who emigrated 50 years ago – in 1967 – from India to the U.S. and then on to Winnipeg, where they still live.
He learned from them much of what Canada has achieved and how it has changed.
“And I really want to see more (changes) over the next 50 years,” said Elijah.
He wrote in his essay that he wants to follow his grandparents’ lead by working toward racial equality and becoming involved in environmental initiatives at the community level.
And just as his grandparents witnessed many technological advancements, Elijah wrote that he too will witness enormous change to come, such as the opening of the Confederation light-rail transit line.
His winning entry was a source of pride for his grandparents, who were in Ottawa visiting during the holidays.
“We were excited and of course teary-eyed too for our grandson would be able to remember the importance of history and build on it and how to extrapolate all our experiences for the future,” said Pamela Rebello.
“The important thing is if they are willing to take the torch forward,” said the retired high school teacher who still owns a dance school. Her husband is a Fulbright scholar and a retired math and science high school teacher. “You never know the impact you will have on the (next) generation.
“It’s a rewarding feeling (knowing that) whatever sacrifices and however difficult it may have been that another generation is willing to build on your legacy,” Pamela said.
Hunt Club resident Jayceegabrielle Calderon, who attends Grade 10 at St. Patrick’s Catholic High School, was awarded $500 from Hydro Ottawa for his second-place essay.
He delved into the technological advancements that will benefit society, but also the need to ensure ecological change becomes a priority beyond tree planting, recycling, and solar and wind energy.
The 16-year-old wants to engage in society, possibly as an entrepreneur. He hopes to one day give back by opening a school where students can benefit from specialized learning.
“I understand as a student the issues we face,” said Jayceegabriel whose high school English teacher inspired him to enter the contest.
He hopes his essay will inform adults about what his generation is thinking and feeling.
“A lot of people think young people are just crazy and do wild things,” he said. “But for me, it’s different because I actually just want to do something good in the future and now as well.”
Upper Hunt Club resident Tara McMahon, 17, a Grade 12 drama student at Canterbury High School in Alta Vista, won third place for her essay, which focused on the future benefits of high-tech advancements, such as energy efficient homes, driverless vehicles and clean energy.
“It’s really important, especially for our future. Being young, we’re going to be here for a while,” said Tara, who took home a prize of $250 from Hydro Ottawa.
The next generation is already adept at using technology in their everyday lives, having grown up immersed in it.
“We’ll be able to affect the changes that we can,” she said.
In her vision of what life will be like in 50 years – in 2067 – Tara wrote of Ottawa’s LRT system and her hope that Canada will have shared its values with the world.
“I truly believe that we can have a positive impact on society by showing everyone how full of love we are,” she wrote.
As a councillor, Deans said one of her goals is to galvanize youth and encourage them to become more involved in their communities.
“We wanted to inspire them and reward them and, as individuals, let them realize that their goals can make a difference,” she said.