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Or, what I really learned about school
by Teevi Mackay

This article is available in Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun in PDF download.

I admit I had a smooth ride with academics in elementary school. When I lived in Toronto, for grade 7, I first began to realize the importance of working hard in school. I lived with my father that year. He had just completed Articling for his Law degree and he insisted firmly that I get the best grades. When I got 96 per cent on a test I remember him asking me, “where did the other four per cent go?”

That may seem harsh to some, but it was the standard he set. Raising one’s bar to the highest level is important — a concept I was taught at a very young age. I believe it to be a philosophy that came from the generations before me.

My father grew up in Glasgow, Scotland, and likely received the best education — something for which that country is known. My father’s mother, my dear grandmother Isabelle, has been the real motivator and mover in the process of my education as she insisted I receive a university education and earn a degree.

In late 2013, her wish for me (and mine too) came true. I graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Journalism degree with a minor in Law from Carleton University. It did not happen without a lot of hard work, self-discipline, dedication and a personal work ethic beyond what I’d ever imagined.

I know now that before you can be successful in the school-system (at whatever age or level) it helps to understand what education is. To receive a bit of ‘education about education,’ before reaching university is crucial and would be helpful for young Inuit today.

For example, when you are attending university people occasionally ask, “what will you do with your degree?” — as if a degree is a means to a particular end. It isn’t. There are so many possibilities, opportunities — especially for Inuit — after earning a degree.You will do better in school if the program truly interests you.

I cannot stress this enough because I know this to be true — particularly for universitylevel learning — you will gain skills that only a university education offers. Earning a university education proves to potential employers that you are a capable, hard-working and dependable person and would make a good employee. University teaches these skills even though your chosen field of study is not necessarily applicable or related to the job you wish to apply for.

Success is found in the very attainment of a degree. I know this philosophy from my grandmother in Scotland and choose here to stress its importance, especially for university because it is what I have experienced personally. I do not agree with questioning intentions for what one will do with their degree. Allow someone to earn a degree and encourage them to know that there will be many different opportunities waiting for them once they complete their studies.

Before even stepping foot in university, I was intimidated by it and I believe that this intimidation is a common barrier to many. To begin with, I had to learn the university culture. My intimidation was perhaps well founded. University pushes you to levels of work that you’ve never experienced and leads to ways of thinking that you never knew existed.

I wish I were able to put the right words to paper to accurately describe to young Inuit the many trials and challenges I went through to get to where I am today. What I can say with confidence is that what carried me through was that I had a singular goal in mind — to graduate with a degree — and to never ever quit no matter how many tears were shed along the way. Somehow I found that inner strength to overcome the barriers that were put before me.

A university education is not intended to be easy. No one was going to earn my degree for me, but I have to say that on my graduation day, I felt the biggest sense of accomplishment I’d felt in my life. It was as if that day, November 9, 2013, I’d been truly rewarded for all that I had worked for.

I remembered my father, Euan, (who has since passed on) bringing me to my first day of kindergarten. It was such a big step in my life to start school and I remember being very excited about the prospect of beginning school as I had watched and looked up to my older siblings.

Perhaps those first feelings about school never went away and as it turned out, my university graduation day was very, very special. When the Scottish bag pipers led the Carleton University faculty into the Convocation ceremony, my thoughts went to my father. I thought of my father a lot during the ceremony, knowing that he would have been proud. In part, it is through his teachings and the high standards he set for me early on that I had gotten this far.

My mother, Igah, has also been the backbone of my success. She is a teacher by trade and teaches Inuktitut at Carleton University. Her eyes after the ceremony said it all: she was so proud of my accomplishment and knew that I had worked for every bit of it. She hosted special dinners on two separate occasions to celebrate my success. She gave me a pair of the most beautiful blue kamiik my grandmother made as my graduation gift. These sealskin boots are a symbol of all that I had to go through to get here — they are stylized, traditional with a modern twist.

The narrative today in the North — more so than ever — is the need to educate young people. I believe that to also include continuing to find ways to inspire young people, showing them the power of education and following through on giving young people the emotional and financial support and tools that will help them succeed.

I strongly believe in ingraining seeds of knowledge about educational philosophy, as this can really help young people attain their desired goals in life. I think it is foundational that young people know that it is an imperative to receive as much education as they wish in whatever sphere or aspect of life that interests them the most. Through that quest they will find independence and satisfaction, true benefits that are life-changing.

Financial support is available for Inuit wanting to pursue a post-secondary education and I believe Inuit should understand this and make use of what is there for them. I also want to encourage parents to support their children to succeed in school, which of course means attending school regularly. Setting an example for my daughter has been part of my determination to complete my degree. The power of setting an example to our children can never be underestimated. I encourage all young people to dream big, aim high in their goals and work hard to do well in school. The rewards of an education are incredible.