When Sauvé Scholars Went Back to School…

Someone once said that the purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows; to allow us to better understand the world around us. I began to understand how this is so on our trip to St. Johnsbury Academy in Vermont this March, where we Sauvé Scholars were invited to speak to the students and school community.

On our drive to the U.S, Glenn Ehrean, Director of the Colwell Center for Global Understanding at the Academy, spoke about how the Academy cherishes the fortitude and spirit of its students- their effervescence, creativity, compassion and generosity, as well as the unique purpose and ardour of each student- believing in them, even when they do not believe in themselves.

Upon arrival, we saw that the school schedule read that Damilola Olawuyi from Nigeria and Anu George Canjanathoppil from India were to make the presentation for the Colwell Center after a potluck dinner that the students put together for the Scholars.

As we walked into the school’s Dinner Hall, we were greeted by very smartly groomed young people who immediately began interacting with us. I saw that these children had their own brand so early in life; a brand that defined and distinguished themselves from mediocrity. Over dinner, we had the opportunity to answer their questions on our respective countries, politics and philosophy. As the conversation progressed, I saw how much they were in contact with the real world outside their school, town, state, and country. The fact that the school was housed in a town of just 7,000 people did not limit their knowledge.

Damilola presented on Environmental Law in the International Context while my presentation was on the Socio-political Impact of Poverty and its allied effects in education. Damilola was arresting with his observations and very specific examples in response to the questions that the very interested audience had for him. What impressed me was the intelligent approach of the audience, who were not only interested, but also curious to know how we perceived the U.S.A. ‘super power,’ considering that we are from developing nations.

Sauvé Scholar Damilola Olawuyi
Come morning, Glenn picked us up early for a breakfast at the school. Lilit and Temitope started identifying the country flags that lined the room’s ceiling. The Academy was home to students whose nationalities coloured the top view of the cafeteria. Just surviving a neck sprain from counting and identifying flags above us, we proceeded to the Chapel where all students gathered for the morning assembly. With seven hundred in attendance, I felt like I was back in school and even managed to get nostalgic for a few moments in that large auditorium as I stood in front of the microphone to speak.

After introductions and welcome speeches, Lilit, Rooz, Temitope, Damilola and I rushed to the classes, as we had topics to cover with students in their classes. Rooz showed the very interesting short film that he made in Iran; the class was excited to meet an Iranian feminist in flesh and blood. Damilola was engaging his class in environmental law and the class’ curiosity led to politics in Nigeria, gas flaring, corporate social responsibility, carbon trading, and questions that pleasantly surprised my Nigerian fellow Scholar.

Given below is the feedback that we received for Temitope and Lilit from one of the Academy’s teachers:

“I had Temi from Nigeria who is a physician working with HIV and AIDS positive patients and Lilit from Armenia who is working with young girls to empower them. As they talked I realized what a perfect fit this was to my classes as I have spent most of this semester trying to teach my students the value of everyone, and to be a helpful advocate you have to drop your preconceived notions. Temi was lecturing the students about the need to drop his judgments at the door when trying to help his patients. Then Lilit was talking about how she goes about helping girls feel more empowered and some of her strategies are exactly the types of things I do with my students to help them realize their potential and develop goals. All in all it was time well spent with some really knowledgeable people with hugely different backgrounds.”

My own classes were on topics ranging from law to public speaking, theatrics, intellectual property rights and community and civic engagement.

While Rooz was getting hunted down by his many student fans, hungry to know more about Iran and his most interesting work, I sat in a quiet corner only to soon to be surrounded by interested students who spoke about everything under the sun. They knew that Slum Dog Millionaire, Bollywood, and Yoga were not all that India is about. We discussed democracy in India, Brazil’s rising prominence owing its solid democratic rule and its strong economy, and a whole range of other topics.

I was impressed, to say the least. Then, as we got the tour of the school, I had to find new words synonymous with amazed. Electives include media studies, production, and creative writing. Social Studies included psychology, philosophy and sociology. The students learn about just about everything- genetics, astronomy, weather science, forensics, robotics, engineering design, architecture, film making, culinary arts, transportation, distribution and logistics, automobile body collision and refinishing, automotive repair… and the list goes on and on!

I walked into an auto service shop where kids repair and reassemble automobiles. The kitchen produces gold medallists for national culinary competitions. The catering Students even run a restaurant. We sampled their baked delights. They were trained to help them win the most coveted scholarships in the world’s best schools for culinary arts. The Chef who trained these students owned and drove to work a Harley Davidson. I am not sure if I lingered so long in that spacious kitchen because of the photo of Paula’s Harley or because of the sweet waft of freshly baked baguettes and Cake.

The School sends students around the world to learn firsthand. Students are supported with language learning, cultural understanding, travel and exchange. I met a few students who had travelled to India to a small village called Thirangambadi to help children. The same students later asked me to explain the strategies tried, tested and adopted for consumers in rural India. Microfinance, analysis and business in rural India were topics of interest for grade ten students.

As a Sauvé Scholar, I have had many opportunities to be where I would not have otherwise have had the chance to go. From lecturing at the Kahnawá:ke Survival School and McGill, to meeting Clinton, Mohammed Yunus, David Suzuki, to visiting the Cirque de Soleil, every day spent as a Sauvé Scholar is enriching.