It wasn’t until Ryan Taylor ’11 ran on to the pitch for a rugby game in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2010 that he stopped to consider just how surreal his life had become. Eighteen months earlier, he had never been on a plane, let alone played rugby in Europe.
It was one of the high points of his three years at SMUS that almost didn’t happen.
Ryan was neither being challenged nor challenging himself at his hometown high school. His buddy Anthony Sharma ’11 had just come back from his first term at SMUS and had regaled him with stories of inspiring classes, passionate teachers and a jam-packed life in boarding. The opportunity seemed out of reach financially, but Ryan decided to contact SMUS Admissions and inquire about financial aid. Within a couple of months, he was named a Timmis Scholar, benefiting from a special endowment fund that directs financial support to students who can’t otherwise afford a SMUS education.
It was a whirlwind transformation for Ryan. Describing himself as immature when he entered SMUS in Grade 10, Ryan found a world where students directed their own projects and challenged themselves to reach new levels. His days of sitting at the back of English class doing his own thing because he had finished the assignment were over. His new English teacher, Mr. Robert Common, pulled his desk to the front of the class and dared him to rise to his potential.
“It was one of the first times I felt truly challenged,” Ryan says. “Mr. Common had an unmatched ability to make students feel like intellectual equals.”
Despite it being a minor action on Mr. Common’s part, Ryan says it was a “monumental learning moment” for him. Being tested like this revealed a path that demanded hard work, energy, thought and failure.
It was just what he needed.
It wasn’t just the academic side of life at SMUS that tested Ryan. As part of his scholarship responsibilities, he attended functions with school donors. One of those functions was the Founders and Scholars Dinner, and he had no idea what he would talk about in a room full of philanthropists. Growing up below the poverty line meant that his experience in this area was thin. He says he simply hadn’t been introduced to the concept—or power of—networking.
“I hadn’t been to anything like that before and I was nervous about the whole thing. Immediately upon arriving, however, it was evident how welcoming everybody was and how eager they were to hear about our experiences at the school.”
Dinners like that and other Advancement events helped him immensely because they demystified the whole concept of networking. He learned that, at its core, the purpose was good conversation and relationship-building.
“I’m fairly introverted, but now I’m completely comfortable at any kind of reception,” he says. “I’m not sure that would be the case if I hadn’t had those experiences at SMUS.”
Those events also cultivated trusting relationships with those supporting him. It’s that trust that helped keep him on the right path when he thought about dropping out of university.
“After SMUS, I went to Colgate as a chemistry major since I thought I wanted to be a doctor,” he says. “I think many children who grow up in a low-income household aren’t aware of the plethora of different career paths available and I definitely had tunnel vision on becoming a doctor or an engineer. I was under the impression that because they were the shiniest objects, so to speak, I was expected to strive toward them.”
He almost dropped out after his first semester when he realized he had no interest in studying chemistry. He was good at it but he had a bit of a weak stomach, which is not ideal for the profession. He didn’t know what to do and felt his options were limited.
“Peter Gardiner walked me back from the ledge after that first semester and convinced me that Colgate was right for me,” he says. “I remember Peter saying, ‘It’s only three more years and, before you know it, you’ll wish you could do three more years.’ At 19, three years seemed like a long time, but he was exactly right.”
While trying to decide what courses to take in his sophomore year, Ryan recalled advice that Hugh McGillivray ’64, his SMUS benefactor, offered: “Do what you love and the money will come.” Although highly skeptical of this advice, he took it and signed up for a political science course. He fell in love with the subject, his grades skyrocketed and he graduated cum laude from Colgate in 2015 with a degree in political science. He’s now in the second year of law at the University of Calgary.
At Colgate, he never once felt unprepared socially, culturally or academically, thanks to his experience at SMUS. In fact, he thrived and refers to Colgate as the best four years of his life. Now, as he begins his career, his relationships with donors like Hugh have inspired him to start making his own contributions to SMUS’s annual Dream Big fund.
“I’m certain that my gratitude towards Hugh is only outmatched by how proud he is of all his scholars and by how much happiness he derives simply from hearing about what we’re doing,” Ryan says. “His outlook on philanthropy had a big impact on me, and I’m highly motivated to put myself in a financial position to give as generously as he has.
“I’ve discovered that I should give because I can. Breaking an intergenerational cycle of poverty is easier when you have a world-class education.”
Be part of the team that’s supporting the dreams of our students. Make a contribution to the Dream Big fund at www.smus.ca/dreambig.
This article appeared in the Fall 2017 edition of School Ties.