Written by Antoinetta DeWit
I can remember the teacher in the front of one of my Grade Eight Guidance classes asking us: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I sat there staring at her, wondering: “How on earth can I, at the young age of 13, answer that question?”
I realized I had never been asked that before, but also realized it was time to step to the plate and set a plan in place for my future. What were my interests? What were my skills? What were my options? I couldn't answer those questions at that moment in time, but decided it would be a good time to get on with it.
As many youngsters of the day, I had been swept off my feet with Trudeaumania and loved watching every bit of news coverage on television, listening to the coverage on CBC radio and reading all about it in the Vancouver Sun newspaper. I collected articles from every possible source and told myself he was my hero. He was bright, dynamic, determined and French. He seemed to have a carefree personality and was always confident in expressing himself in both English and French. I said to myself: I want to be just like him!
When I held my arm up in the Guidance class, and the teacher gave me the floor, I said: “I plan to be just like Pierre Elliot Trudeau.”
My classmates laughed, making me even more determined to show them I could do it and show them I did.
I immersed myself into my French classes. I listened carefully to everything my first and favourite French teacher tried to teach me. I struggled and pushed myself, and attended double classes by spending my spares in another French class every week. In Grade 12, I applied for bursaries, grants and scholarships to enable me to pay for French courses at a bilingual Canadian University. I left BC at the age of 17 to study in a French-only college for the summer months. I came back home to start a program at SFU for one year and then used a Fellowship grant and Bursary to complete a degree in the French language, at the University of Ottawa.
As luck would have it, I met the right person at the right time, and got a four year job working for the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Government. I can only imagine what my former Grade Eight classmates would have thought of that!
When that wonderful experience ended, I saw it as a stepping stone to my next phase as a proud Canadian citizen. I attended the French Immersion Teacher Education program at UBC, and became a certified French teacher. I now teach people of all ages, translate messages, listen to French songs, read French novels and poetry, and proudly wear bilingualism on my sleeve.
When people ask me what being Canadian means to me, that story is very easy to tell. It means figuring out what made our nation possible, what defines us as a progressive society and then work to emulate, or at least support, that vision.
Happy 150th Canada ... Bon 150e anniversaire de la confédération du Canada!