"Thank you and please, put students first." Managing a shy smile, I sat back down, exhaling a huge sigh of relief as I rubbed off the sweat on my palms on the pale champagne colored table cloth. I was never good with public speaking. Although I had little trouble being vocal with friends, speaking in front of a crowd was completely different. Now, one can imagine my apprehension with speaking in a room full of politicians and reporters at Toronto's Ontario Legislative Building. How did I get into this situation? It all began sophomore year.
'You will not be taken seriously. You must wait until you grow up. You are not capable.' But I really wanted to help; I was searching for an opportunity, an issue to tackle or someone to assist, and yet I was told by teachers that, as a high school student, I can't lead until I'm older.
In Grade 10, I, along with my fellow student senators, advised the two Student Trustees elected to represent the students of the Peel District School Board. Before long, the new year approached and the time to elect the next year's Student Trustees drew near. At first, the thought of running for the position did not even cross my mind. However, with the encouragement of friends and family, I decided to step out of my comfort zone. After two months of submitting resumes, sitting through interviews, and campaigning against 16 students across three cities, I was called through the intercom to the principal's office and was told that, I won.
Beginning my role was nerve wracking. There seemed to be doubt everywhere, especially from my teachers. The idea that students, let alone one, can actually initiate change seemed foreign. Having my spirit and initiative cut by adults was daunting, yet, the feelings of being told I was inadequate because of my age made me realize the need for youth to make a difference. Determined to prove everyone wrong, I remained confident and began the year with three goals - address environmental concerns, promote equity within schools, and most importantly, represent the students I was elected to serve.
By the end of my junior year, I was taken back by/shocked what a difference a student could make. With the support of my co - trustee as well as the adult trustees on the board, I represented 150,000 students in acting and speaking out on issues critical to the student population in the [school board], from special education to healthy food in cafeterias. I spearheaded a paperless Board Office, saving $20,000 annually, making a significant environmental and financial impact, collected over 2,000 signatures in support of Bill 13, Ontario's first anti - bullying legislation, and planned a district wide Day of Pink in the fight against bullying, discrimination, homophobia, and transphobia. In addition, as a General Assembly member of the Ontario Student Trustees' Association (OSTA), the largest student-facilitated organization comprised of all the Ontario Student Trustees, I became a part of a group dedicated to representing student voice on both local and provincial issues, encouraging student presence at affiliated stakeholder meetings. Through OSTA, I met student leaders like myself who shared a mutual sense of understanding that youth can, and will, make a difference.
At the end of my first term, I realized that initiating change did not have to be on a large scale. Often, the real empowerment begins not with the Ministry of Education, student senates, or student councils but rather, with students themselves. Motivated to address issues at a grassroot level, I ran for re - election and won, becoming the first two - term Student Trustee of the Peel District School Board.
Currently three months into my second term, I am the elected President of the Public Board Council (PBC) of OSTA and represent over 1.2 million Ontario public students. To engage as many students as possible, I began taking time to visit various schools across the district and listen to exactly what students, especially those who are not as vocal, have to say. Although this communication was beneficial, I had minimal ways to reach out to students all across Ontario. Thus, the first provincial wide initiative I took on as President was to provide a method of two-way communication between OSTA and Ontario students. After hours of discussion with public Student Trustees, we decided to launch the Ontario Student Voice Forum, a forum-based website where students can anonymously discuss various issues in education. Many spoke out about their loss of ex