Being a teenager is tough. School takes up all the good hours during the day, and homework demands attention at night. Teachers fight for students' attention, even if the subject isn't to their liking. Finding any time for themselves can be a tricky thing.
But for these two local youth, finding time for themselves wasn't even an option. In fact, they felt obligated to make the community that helped raise them become even better, even if it meant losing precious hours of sleep.
"I was always notorious among friends and teachers that I never slept much," said recent Terry Fox Secondary graduate Shehan Wijeyagoonewardane, laughing. "Sometimes I take on a bit more than I can handle. I think that's my biggest issue, because when you take on so much work you don't want to let anyone down."
In his last year of high school, Wijeyagoonewardane was the youth rep for the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce, helped draft the Partington Creek Neighbourhood Plan for Burke Mountain, raised $19,000 for Free the Children, and started The Legacy Project for his school.
"Essentially what this is is a way for the graduating class to think about how to leave a legacy in their name every year," he said. "For example, last year the grad class raised money for a baby suffering from a rare type of cancer."
They raised a few thousand dollars.
To say Wijeyagoonewardane was a keener would be an understatement, and for some reason his drive to better his community was never really a choice.
"Honestly, for me it's just automatic," he said. "I've always wanted to better the community somehow. I think it's all of our obligation as citizens. "We are lucky in the sense we have a secure society," he said. "We can go to sleep at night knowing we have jobs and can put food on the table. That's not the case for many other people around the world."
Wijeyagoonewardane says people in Canada can act a bit spoiled, and that becomes painfully apparent when he compares our quality of life to those of people in less fortunate communities around the world.
"People complain about taking transit," he said. "At least you have a transit system. You
don't have to worry about food or going to school, or being harmed going to school, or having to walk two hours to get there."
Wijeyagoonewardane graduated last year and is already looking ahead about how to pile even more on top of his already full plate.
"I'll be doing a dual-degree, a bachelor of science and business," he said.
He recently left for the University of Western Ontario, where this future community leader plans to learn as much as he can before taking the next step into the working world.
In fact, his community service garnered him a $2,000 scholarship from Envision Financial,
a division of First West Credit Union.
But he's not alone.
Local student Liam St. Louis also received the scholarship for much the same reason: an unprecedented commitment to community well-being.
"Usually when I see an opportunity to do something, I don't ask myself why, I ask why not," St. Louis said. "If I see something that I think should be done or should be happening, whether that's a new club or a way to improve something that's already around, I make sure it happens."
Just exiting his teen years, St. Louis founded his school's debate team (which sent a member on to place fourth in the national competition), is an ESL practice facilitator, a major participant in the model United Nations, and works in an English practice group.
He's attending Mount Allison University in New Brunswick to pursue a degree in international relations.
"After that, who knows?" he said. "I trust myself to forge a good path."
He also offered a point of wisdom to those looking to better the world around them.
"And a note to anyone else striving to do more for their world and their community," he said. "There's never a reason you can't do something, only reasons you won't try."
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