Canada’s can-do attitude begins by encouraging students

“As a boy growing up in Brantford, Ont., I knew that anyone could make it in Canada just by believing in themselves. I tied up my skates every day and practised relentlessly.” Wayne Gretzky

Contributed to The Globe and Mail

Every great country has a national mantra. The American Dream stipulates that anyone, no matter what their background, can be a success if they work hard enough. Canada has no equivalent catchphrase, but the can-do values of hard work and perseverance have been a staple of our country for centuries.

Canadians value determination and those who succeed. Immigrants choose this country as their home because they know they will be afforded every opportunity in life, no matter what their circumstances. As a boy growing up in Brantford, Ont., I knew that anyone could make it in Canada just by believing in themselves. I tied up my skates every day and practised relentlessly.

That’s why it was disappointing to read Margaret Wente’s recent column(“Why grit is highly overrated”) arguing that some hard-working students should not be given the chance to overcome their difficult circumstances.

Ms. Wente advocated that schools focus more on stimulating the “brightest” students, while also doing a better job of ensuring that disadvantaged students can “read and add” and become good citizens. This was based on new research showing that “grit” is largely a hereditary trait, not something that can be learned.

It is my fundamental conviction that perseverance is a key to success in school, work, and life in general – and I’m living proof. That’s why I was honoured to be inducted into the Horatio Alger Association of Canada as a member in 2003. This association believes that hard work, determination and honesty can conquer all obstacles.

We provide 85 annual scholarships of up to $10,000 to high-school students who have overcome adversity while demonstrating strong character, a good academic record and a desire to contribute to society. The scholarships are fully financed by association members, a group of successful Canadians and Americans who have overcome their own adversities.

Our 2016 scholarship recipients prove that grit is anything but overrated. Their average annual family income is $20,042. One-fifth of the recipients experienced death of a parent or guardian; 12 per cent experienced incarceration of a parent or guardian; 42 per cent experienced abandonment; 14 per cent have been in foster care; 28 per cent have experienced some form of abuse; 20 per cent struggle with physical or mental disabilities. Three-quarters of them work during the school year to help their families. And yet, they continue to push forward and work for a better future for themselves.

The association received thousands of applications for these scholarships – each representing a determined student who would be left behind if perseverance were devalued by society. Thankfully, groups such as the Horatio Alger Association of Canada continue to encourage students who demonstrate true “grit” and show them that their efforts are not in vain.

Ms. Wente may not be the ballet dancer her six-year-old self dreamed of. But there is no doubt that her successful career as a journalist is the result of a persistent drive for excellence in her early life.

To suggest that some may not be worthy of this same opportunity, and that unless they are born with these traits there is no point in trying, is beneath anyone who believes in equality of opportunity for all.


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