Student wins national essay contest

Julia LeBlanc earns $10,000 scholarship

Although Julia LeBlanc is still in Grade 11, a post-secondary opportunity has opened up for her. The 17-year-old Centre scolaire de la Rive-Sud student has won a $10,000 scholarship to Université Sainte-Anne.

Julia won a national essay competition put on by French for the Future, a national not-for-profit organization promoting the study of the French language in Canada by high school students. Although she’s thankful for the scholarship and excited about winning, Julia is uncertain as to whether the amount will dictate her future. “I don’t know. I’m still not one hundred per cent sure what I’d like to do, but it’s something to keep in mind when deciding.”

Those who have French as their first language and those studying it were both able to enter the contest. Julia has attended French school since Primary and so was entered in the mother-tongue category; her experience there was the subject of her paper, entitled in English “Minority, but not minimal.”

The theme of the contest was based on a quote from Michaëlle Jean, former Governor General of Canada: “Sports, culture, and arts are necessities that bring together communities and give youth a way to express themselves.” The essayists were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with this statement and asked to explain why.

“We really don’t have a French community here but through the school and our community centre I’ve seen a French community start to grow,” said Julia, who answered the question in the affirmative. “We started from zero, we need to build up from there, so you can really see the community is growing. More people are coming to the school now. We have more programs, more sports, more choices.”

Her literary French teacher, Alex Godbold, introduced the contest to his class at the last minute when he received an e-mail from Canadian Parents for French saying the deadline had been extended. He offered the essay contest to the class as an option instead of another assignment.

“I was, of course, thinking of the high cost of tuition, and we have such great students at the school that are for the most part university bound, so I saw it as an opportunity in that respect,” said Mr. Godbold, of the fact that the contest issued $215,000 in scholarships to eight Canadian post-secondary institutions, adding the subject was suitable, “we’re a small French school trying to build a french community on the South Shore.”

Julia’s mother, Meredith LeBlanc, says this growing community is something she’s noticed as well, even from the outskirts as an English parent.

“Everything that she’s achieved she’s done on her own, because I haven’t been able to really help her much with her homework,” said Ms LeBlanc.

At the moment, Julia’s considering a career in music or education. She plays the piano and the clarinet in her school’s band. She’s also the student council’s treasurer and keeps active in Girl Guides and teaching swimming lessons at the Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre.

“I told her to make her decision based on what program she wants to study,” said Ms LeBlanc. “I’m hoping there might be other scholarship opportunities that come along when she’s in Grade 12 too, so that there isn’t pressure from this one to make a decision that way.”

According to her teacher, this shouldn’t be a problem. “She’s fantastic, she’s very dedicated, she’s a hard worker, she’s an analytical thinker, and you know she really understands the different challenges that French minorities face throughout Canada,” said Mr. Godbold.

Julia is thankful for her French heritage, regardless of whether or not she’ll pursue her post-secondary studies in French. “It’s not something that everybody can do, so I guess it makes me unique in a way, and it just gives you more options because I can choose to go to a French university or an English university, and then when travelling you have that extra way to connect with people too.”

As originally published in LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin

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