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"Toronto was my first choice" - a true story about overcoming obstacles to achieve your goals

What happens when you overcome doubts, challenges, and sacrifice everything to achieve your dreams? Symone Peltier, first year Psychology student at University of Toronto, tells you in her own words.
BY BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer |   22-10-2019

University of Toronto Mississauga

What does it take to go all the way from Manitoulin Island to the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus? Grit, brains, and focus on your dreams. That’s what Symone Peltier tells BrainGain Magazine.

She also talks about her inspiring mother, and how being an Indigenous youth poses a particular set of problems to solve.

Edited excerpts from the conversation are below.

  1. Where are you from? How far is home from the University of Toronto?

    I’m from Manitoulin Island in Northern Ontario. It’s a 6 ½ hour trip by car as there are no passenger flights that go on and off the island. There is an airport, however. But it has one tarmac meant for bush planes.

  2. What obstacles did you overcome to get into U of T?

    One of the biggest obstacles I had to face was doubt. I’ve come across school staff who tried to discourage me from applying to ANY universities in the first place. Because I’m from a small community, we have small class sizes, so there was a lot of one-on-one time with teachers. And we were able to slow things down if there was a concept that we (as a class) weren’t grasping. So in high school, when I told some of the teachers, students, and staff, who were a part of post-secondary counselling that I wanted to go to Toronto, I was discouraged and essentially told that I’d be behind in my learning, that the city schools were much more advanced, and that I’d struggle a lot [at University].

    In order to get in, I also had to maintain a certain grade. I know there’s a stigma around Indigenous students where [it is believed that] post secondary institutions are lenient with us and lower [our] entrance grade levels. I can confidently say that is 100% wrong. I had to work VERY hard and spend a lot of time studying, reviewing, asking questions, and sacrificing what would otherwise be free time, to make sure I [got] into UofT, because I don’t know what I would’ve done if I didn’t get in.

    I did have other options, it’s just that Toronto was my first choice.

  3. How did your high school extracurricular activities shape you as a person?

    Throughout high school I played volleyball and although the first year was rough because I was in Grade 9, I was resilient because I loved the sport and knew I could improve. Once I became a senior, being a part of the girls’ volleyball team gave me a sense of family. Being a good team doesn’t always mean winning; it also means supporting one other.

    Joining these extracurriculars taught me how to be a leader.

    I was also a part of my high school’s robotics team. When I joined the team, there was a strong sense of fairness and community. Everyone was friends and we spent a lot of time together. During build season we would spend hours in the build room working vigorously and order pizza, pop, and other snacks that kept us going throughout the night. Our coach was also a math and science teacher who voluntarily (as in, he was never paid) stayed with us to work on the robot for 1-3 hours, 3 times a week in the evenings to supervise.

  4. What programs offered by the university helped you to familiarize yourself with U of Toronto?

    In March 2017, I completed the SOAR mentorship program, a week-long program for Indigenous students at U of T St. George’s campus. It exposes Indigenous students to city life and the support systems that St. George has to offer. It was hosted by the faculty of Kinesiology, however we were able to experience many science programs. We did a lot of physical activities, team-building ice breakers, relay races, dance sessions, sport facility visits, and learnt about off-campus programs, associated or run by U of T students and staff.

    I also participated in the Summer Mentorship Program (SMP) held at the St. George campus specifically, the faculty of medicine. It is open to anyone either going into Grade 11 or 12. We stayed in the residence for the month of July, participated in lectures, attended class, labs, and explored the faculty. The program exposed us to all the supports and programs, including the sport centre, the gym and pool, as well as the library. It also showed us study areas and places to eat. We were assigned a cumulative project and achieved a credit that would then go towards our high school records. Participating in the SMP program taught me budgeting, time management, and independence. I learned how to navigate the city on my own (and how to be safe about it), and how to set time aside for work and research. Also, when it came to budgeting, I quickly learned the importance of buying groceries before spending money on shoes and makeup!

  5. Can you share with me the role your mother played in the promotion of education?

    My mom has taught me the importance of education.

    As Indigenous women, [we find it] harder to be taken seriously in society, and even more so if we don’t have an education. We put ourselves at risk of higher rates of poverty and then living on government money. Indigenous people [as a whole] are stigmatized throughout Canada, and despite our small population, I learnt that Indigenous people are [a large section] of the prison and victim population.

    My mother also told me that with education, comes independence. With independence, comes freedom. When I’d be having a hard time in high school, my mom was always there to remind me of my goals, and of the rewards that come with hard work.

    When I was younger, my mom was finishing up her post secondary education, and she was a role model. If I woke up in the middle of the night, I remember seeing her in front of the computer typing, and I’d ask her what she was doing. At the time, I didn’t know what homework was. When she graduated from post secondary, I remember things immediately got a lot better.  We were able to move to a bigger living space and had more time to travel. Not only did my mom tell me that with hard work comes reward, [she showed me].

    Right now, she’s finishing up her Master’s. Even now she maintains that work ethic. I see her stay up all hours of the night working on her assignments, always reading. [She has] binders and binders filled with notes, massive textbooks lined with sticky notes, and her work calendar scrawled with “Assignment Due”. So, when I first came into University, I had a better grasp of what to expect and how to handle it.

  6. How do you like U of T campus?

    It’s great! There is some forestry here on campus, and some wildlife, and I’m surrounded by nature. It makes me feel a bit closer to home. There’s not as much room for distraction because of how far away the campus is from major shopping centres. I don’t think I would be doing as well in my studies if I was downtown because I’d be “overstimulated” with the liveliness of big-city life.

    I’m glad I chose to come study here at UTM.

  7. What is your advice for other aspiring students?

    Read. Read. Read.

    You’re going to have to do things that you don’t like but as long as you keep your goal in mind, and remember why you started in the first place, it will make the process less difficult.

    There are also academic supports on campus to help you. At UTM, we have facilitated study groups that can go over what was covered in class, and help you. The groups are also great for one-on-one [sessions]. They will take the time, and walk you through everything until you understand. They can help you apply what you’ve learned to other situations. These groups teach you how to think critically.

    There are also PALs (Peer Academic Leaders) who help you in your program of study, as well as academic skill centres that will assist you with specific tasks and/or assignments for a specific course.

    Time management is also [important]. I like to plan my day by the hour and make a checklist. Checking off what I’ve done keeps me motivated.




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