Where Are They Now? Q & A with Nicole Johnston, Alumna of KSS


Mikayla Banman, Writer

Have you ever wondered where a person goes after high school? Contrary to common belief, they do not disappear into a void of oblivion. Actually, a good many of them go off to university, and then on to accomplish great things. I have written a couple of articles on the history of KSS, so I thought it would be a nice change to talk about the alumni of Kelowna Secondary School. And who better to start us off than Nicole Johnston, 2015 Valedictorian and graduate of KSS. Nicole is currently studying at the University of Ottawa, and I had the opportunity to ask Nicole a few questions about how she is doing now, and what her life is like after high school.

  1. How was the transition from high school into university?

The transition from high school to university has been a very big learning process for me. I can’t say that it has been easy, but I find myself constantly growing and working to improve myself. Overall, I would definitely say that is has been a positive experience, although there have been a few difficult moments along the way. What I have found above everything is that hard work, perseverance, and a little bit of tenacity can make any situation into a positive learning experience.

  1. Is it different than what you expected?

I am genuinely passionate about what I am studying. I mean, I had hoped that I would like my coursework enough to make the next four years before I get my degree bearable, but I did not expect to engage with my courses as passionately as I am, especially in first year. I have found myself spending extra time on my readings and thoroughly enjoying researching for papers because I find the content so interesting.

  1. More difficult?

University is a lot more stressful than I thought it would be. I have always been a very “on-the-go” person, so I am no stranger to stress; however, this is a new kind of stress. Grades are more important, classes are harder, community involvement is more crucial, and to top that off, I am living away from my family in a completely new and socially intense place. There is a lot to adapt to and I didn’t consider how hard this would be in a place where I don’t have any sense of familiarity. Luckily, I have developed great relationships to help with those stresses and I have found a sense of community here that offers me a lot of much needed support.

  1. What are you studying?

A: International Development and Globalization, and I am hoping to add a minor in Political Science. For a good description of the program, check this link out http://socialsciences.uottawa.ca/dvm/about-school

  1. Do you enjoy it?

I really enjoy this area of study. I think that international development is often misunderstood as the rich giving to the poor, but it is so much more than that. We are able to find the reasons for human suffering and find a way to eradicate it. These issues are often so much more complicated than people assume they are, which is why the solutions cannot be effective without proper analysis. Basically, I am just really excited to be able to get a degree that will let me help people.

  1. Why did you choose to study this topic?

I have always been really interested in social justice and activism; however, I never really saw these fields as viable career options. In high school, I had the opportunity to do some traveling and live abroad, which completely opened my eyes to the possibilities in the world. I was really involved with the Me to We Club at KSS as well as a few other leadership groups and I always knew that this was my true passion in life and what I was meant to do. Living abroad showed me that my opportunities in life are only limited by my own choices. I have always wanted to do work that has ethical value and will be morally satisfying, so I knew in my heart that this was the only career path for me. Again, all that I really want to do is help people, make the world a better place, and have some adventures while I do it.

  1. How were your expectations met or not met when you got to university?

I have a life philosophy where I try never to expect anything. I have found this to be very beneficial to me because I see a lot of people saddened when they realize that the “best years of their lives” would be spent drinking coffee and trying to study for 3 midterms at once. In not expecting anything, I have been able to take every situation for what it is and try to find a little bit of positivity or room to grow in tough situations.

  1. What activities are you involved in around the community? Do you have time for extra activities?

On campus, I am a member of the Rotaract Club, the Young Liberals and I am currently volunteering in the preparations of UOttawa’s annual International Development Week. Whether or not I have time for extra activities is a question that I am not sure how to answer. Although I do have an extra stress for time because I am involved around campus, this involvement has given me purpose and meaning at school. These groups are all also really relevant to my program and have helped me to focus on my passions, find real world applications for my learning, and network with likeminded people.

  1. How is university life?

University life is intense. There is a lot of studying involved, but there is also a lot of learning that happens outside of the lecture hall. There are so many incredible experiences in an institution like this and so many opportunities to try new things. Likewise, there are so many people here that it is very easy to find likeminded people who have similar interests and beliefs.

  1. Compared to high school life?

In high school, opportunities are given to you. High school lays out a map and gives everyone a chance to succeed. University has a similar structure, but you need to fight for it. Perhaps professors won’t approach you to see how you feel about an upcoming paper or concept you don’t understand, but if you approach them they will give you every tool necessary to succeed. In high school, grades are mainly given for regurgitation of material, whereas in university, you must engage in course content and be actively involved in order to succeed.

  1. What do you expect/hope to be doing in 5 years time?

Similar to my question about expectations, I don’t know. I have a Co-Op program with me degree, so I will be graduating in the winter of 2019 and after that I am not sure what I will be doing or where I will be doing it. Ideally, I will be able to work in a developing country. However, it is also very likely that I will be enrolled in a masters program somewhere in the world to further my education. What I love about my degree is that I don’t know what I will be doing at any point in time or where I will be living. I fully intend to explore the world through a variety of jobs in order to impact the most lives that I possibly can. Maybe down the road you will see me in politics or working for the UN. But for right now my goal is to finish exams and make the most of my time in school.

  1. Do you have any tips for high school students who are about to graduate/go to university?

My first tip is to start taking academics more seriously right now. Seriously. It is very hard to find motivation in second semester of grade 12 because everything seems to be ending, but what you aren’t remembering is that the hardest part of your education is yet to come. Build up good study habits so that when you get to university, you aren’t scrambling to recover from the “senior slide” while also trying to adjust to university life. Stay in your hard classes (this includes Chemistry 12) and work hard to get good grades in them. You will thank me when you go to write your first midterm and you aren’t frantically trying to learn how to study.

My second tip is to start enjoying your social life a lot more. Study hard, but also enjoy the time that you have at KSS. Get involved, go to every school event, spend time with your friends and enjoy your last year of high school. Life gets a lot harder after high school and you don’t want to say that you missed out on experiencing the big moments of high school because you were too busy thinking ahead after graduation. Keep the big picture in mind and work hard to achieve your goals, but enjoy every single day on the way.