Reflections from Our Class of 2020 Lifers

On September 5, 2007, a group of Kindergarten students set foot in the Junior School for their first day at St. Michaels University School. Twelve of these students, plus another two who joined them to start Grade 1, are now SMUS Lifers; students who have spent their entire education at SMUS and are on the cusp of graduating later this month.

Being a Lifer is a unique experience and one that brings with it unique relationships and perspectives. We thank five of our Class of 2020 Lifers for sharing their thoughts on what it means to be a SMUS Lifer:

Angelina Shandro
Christian Turpin
Bernice Hong
Larry Yu
Evelyn Hawes

by Angelina Shandro, Kindergarten Lifer

Looking back on the last 13 years growing up among the other SMUS Lifers, I recall innumerable events, encounters, challenges, and accomplishments. However, these anecdotes stood out as particularly memorable:

Grade 3: It’s Sports Day, and I line up with my classmates to participate in the one-lap race. Go! I charge around the grassy oval, arms flailing, baggy blue gym clothes flopping around my spindly frame, sliding around the hairpin turns as my Tolson teammates cheer me on, and dip finishing over the painted white line like the sprinters on TV. The sense of freedom and (perceived) speed is exhilarating, and in these moments I realize the joy of running. Eight years later, I will crouch into the starting blocks in Queretaro, Mexico, for my first international meet with the Canadian U18 National Team.

Grade 5: The Greek history and culture unit culminates in the chance to become our favourite mythological figure for the day, and participate in activities ranging from chariot races to Parthenon model-building. Dressed as the wise and majestic Athena in my 100% polyester bed sheet among my peers wielding aluminum-foil tridents, I find myself genuinely curious and enthusiastic about learning. Three years later, I’ll embark on a service and culture trip to Greece with several classmates – now tangible, the country’s traditions and architecture would become even more fascinating.

Grade 6: “Alors, quels types de légumes as-tu achetés au marché?” Staring at the judges, competitors, and parents at the Concours d’art oratoire provincial finals, I scramble for an answer to the impromptu question. The only vegetable I remember is… Beans! “Euh…les haricots… verts… les haricots noirs… les haricots rouges…” I’m on a roll! “Les haricots jaunes… les haricots blancs,” I continue proudly until the beady-eyed judge calls up the next competitor. Beaming, I return to my seat, overcome with relief. Barely able to conjugate French verbs two months prior, I’ve now managed to write and present an original speech. Five years later, I’ll spend a summer working at a bed and breakfast in southern France, where my language skills allow me newfound independence (and the ability to improve my vegetable vocabulary beyond different colours of beans). At SMUS, learning the value of challenging myself has motivated me to embrace uncertainty, rather than forfeiting enriching opportunities in fear of failure.

Grade 7: During my Junior School years, I was a relatively shy and reserved child; talking to strangers filled me with terror, as did charades, large events and drawing attention to myself. However, by Middle School, I’m ready for a change: after constantly practising the script, the gestures, the voice inflections, my name appears in the program next to the role of Wicked Witch for the upcoming musical, The Wizard of Oz. Over the next few months, the world of acting liberates me – I love narrowing my eyes at Dorothy under the glaring lights, yelling at the top of my voice, sweeping my cape as I stalk across the stage, and embodying a role seemingly incongruous with others’ prior perceptions of my calm, quiet personality. Through this truly transformative experience, I emerged a more confident, dynamic individual with greater conviction in my abilities.

Grade 9: On my second SMUS outtrip and first time surfing, I hop around like an idiot in the Chesterman Beach parking lot as I struggle into a wetsuit. Twenty minutes later, I’m ready! “It’s on backwards,” my friend deadpans. But no matter. Here in Tofino, I’ve been introduced to an entirely different and marvellous lifestyle: bounding after Frisbees thrown across endless sandy beaches, collaborating with my peers to create delicious post-surfing dinners, sipping hot chocolate around a flickering campfire. While rock climbing, camping, hiking, and skiing across the province on SMUS outdoor education initiatives, I’ve discovered a passion for adventure. Now, finding myself in a world characterized by multitasking and productivity, these moments remind me to leave time for relaxing and exploring.

I’m so appreciative of the diversity of people and opportunities to which I’ve been exposed at SMUS. These experiences have supported my development into a more diligent, adaptable, confident, and ambitious individual. I’m leaving SMUS with a better understanding of myself, and my place in society.

Next year, I’ll attend University of Toronto on an academic and athletic scholarship; I intend to major in economics and international relations, while continuing to train as a sprinter. In the future, I dream of contributing to politics and international relations through a unique position which incorporates my interests in law, diplomacy, and journalism. I hope to eventually resolve foreign policy disputes and investigate human rights violations, helping our global community to function more peacefully and ethically.

Thank you to the faculty, students, and other members of the SMUS community who have made my education so memorable. It has been an extraordinary privilege to attend this institution.

by Christian Turpin, Kindergarten Lifer

Thirteen years at SMUS has flown by in what seems to be the blink of an eye. They say that when time passes quickly you are enjoying yourself. My time at SMUS has been jam-packed with learning, friendships, and unforgettable experiences.

It seems like only yesterday I was lining up for my first day of Kindergarten. I very quickly started to feel part of a large family. My Kindergarten years were incredibly nurturing and the friendships I made have stayed with me to this day.

Some of my favourite memories from Junior School include Chester (the Kindergarten mascot), making gingerbread cookies to raise money for Santas Anonymous, learning the cello in Grade 4, and the school musical, iSPY. These are just a few of so many incredible memories. Junior School laid a strong foundation for me to move on to Middle School and Senior School.

Middle School presented me with opportunities such as going to Toronto with the CAIS soccer team, participating in Model UN, and the yearly outtrips at Camp Thunderbird. Senior School has also been very exciting. Planning for life after high school and meeting people from around the world from the boarding community are highlights. One of my favorite memories from Senior School was the Experiential Program in Grade 10. Throughout the experiential program I participated in various hands-on learning opportunities such as converting a gas vehicle to an electric vehicle and going on a week-long sailing trip with S.A.L.T.S. Participating in the school musicals and orchestra have also been extremely memorable.

One of the defining features of SMUS is the strong sense of community, support, and encouragement that teachers, friends, and families create. SMUS has prepared me well for higher learning and life. I feel incredibly fortunate to have attended SMUS and am grateful for the memories and lifelong friendships.

by Bernice Hong, Kindergarten Lifer

Being a Lifer has given me a sense of community and belonging that I will never forget. Regardless of whether or not I’m close with my fellow Lifers, it has been amazing to grow up with such a small group of people that I’ve known since Kindergarten and see the people they’ve grown into.

My earliest memory at SMUS is the first day of Kindergarten where my teacher, Mrs. Lincoln, came out to greet us with her stuffed raccoon named Chester. I think it’s safe to say that almost every Lifer’s favourite memory is being able to bring Chester home with you on the weekend and finding him in your underwear drawer the next morning (that’s apparently his favourite spot). I also met one of my closest friends to this day in my first few days of Kindergarten. Her curly hair stood out against her red polo shirt and I was quick to introduce myself to her.

Throughout my years at the Junior School, I was so excited to be in Grade 12 when I could come back to visit as a Lifer. Unfortunately, due to our circumstances, that wasn’t exactly possible this year, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

Being at SMUS for my entire life has made me realize how much we value community and virtues, and I think it has really set me up for the future. As much as I would love to turn back time and be a wee little Kindergartener again, I am excited for what the future has in store for me. I am hopeful that even after I graduate I will be able to return to the Junior School again and give back the amazing memories that I have received during my 13 years here.

by Larry Yu, Grade 1 Lifer

12 years.

It’s been 12 years.


Reflecting on those 12 years at SMUS evokes a lot of feelings, but most of all, I feel lucky. Lucky to be raised in a loving and supportive household, lucky to have developed lifelong friendships, and lucky to have a point of stability in my life. I’ve gone from struggling with basic addition to struggling with triple integrals with the same people beside me. How many people can say that?

Although I’d be lying if I said if all of us Lifers are super close to each other. As the years progressed, we entered different friend groups and chose different classes. That’s just how life works. Still, I feel that there’s an unspoken bond between all of us; I’m guessing it’s due to our many shared memories creating a common childhood nostalgia. We’ve experienced so much that I could go on forever rambling about the good ol’ days, so I’ll share just one of my favourite memories. It was, funny enough, when things went wrong.

When I was in Grade 1, the school was temporarily evacuated and we all had to sit outside in the field on a slightly chilly fall afternoon. I didn’t really understand what was going on, but I was soon asked to join a game of Stella-Stella-Ola, which I had never played before. And when we were all chanting and clapping, I, for lack of better words, remember feeling safe and included; despite everything that was going on, it was a uniquely human moment.

Fast forward 12 years. A lot has changed, but some things haven’t. Things are going wrong right now (understatement of the year), we’re not physically together at school, but we’re trying to connect with each other the best we can. And as I move away from this point of stability towards a new university in a new city in a new country in September (hopefully), I’ll always have the whimsical words of Stella-Stella-Ola stuck in the back of my head:

Baloney, baloney, with cheese and macaroni,
Fire, one, two, three, four!

by Evelyn Hawes, Grade 1 Lifer

The first day in Grade 1 at a brand new school was not a day I was particularly excited for. Six-year-old me, on the morning of the first day at school, decided that she not just disliked the knee-high navy socks that were required in the uniform, but she hated them. She didn’t like how they looked and how they felt, and she was vehement in the fact that she simply could not go to a school that made her wear such socks, a horrendous school as it surely must be.

My parents, however, convinced me that I would get used to the socks (which I, in fact, did), and that I would learn to love SMUS – again, which I did.

My first year at SMUS, however, was scary for me. I loved the Junior School, but I happened to be incredibly shy; I was socially awkward and found everything about this new environment quite petrifying. The prospect of making friends was incredibly intimidating, and the idea of raising my hand and speaking in class – well that was out of the question.

Despite my dedication to silence and a quiet nature that I reverted to in social situations, SMUS, year by year, brought out the outgoing, confident side of me. In Junior School, I discovered a love of writing, and a desire to sing and act. I found myself discovering everything about myself through opportunities like the Junior School musical and Language Arts classes. My passions carried on through Middle School and into the Senior School, my self-confidence growing more and more each year. I had found a place where I truly felt comfortable, and able to be myself. SMUS has not only become my school, but a special part of my childhood, my preteen years and my teen years; an experience I will never take for granted.

Not too long ago I decided that I would like to pursue theatre in my post-secondary years. I am thrilled to be attending the Canadian College of Performing Arts next year, and can’t wait to delve into an arts-based school. I have to give SMUS a great amount of credit for my path I have decided on; this school allowed me to flourish in a way I’m not sure I would’ve been able to anywhere else.

It’s a fascinating thing, how true comfort in a place can give someone the strength to feel confident, and grow to their full extent. I’ve spent 12 years at SMUS, and through those 12 years, not only did I find my passion for theatre, but I found the confidence required to pursue such a career. SMUS transformed me from a shy Grade 1 girl to a young woman willing to take centre stage.

I’ll miss SMUS in the coming years, and will remember it fondly. I’ll be reminded of all the things that brought me joy and comfort: the community, the students, the teachers, and even the knee-high navy socks.


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