Despite an unprecedented roller coaster of a senior year, Our Lady of the Bay’s valedictorian is still able to see the positive.
For this week’s edition of People of Collingwood we spoke with Leah Denbok, 18, 2021 valedictorian for Our Lady of the Bay Catholic High School.
Q: For how long have you lived in Collingwood?
A: I’ve lived in Collingwood all my life.
Q: What schools did you attend?
A: I attended Nottawa Elementary School and Our Lady of the Bay Catholic High School.
Q: You were named valedictorian for this year’s graduating class. How did you feel when you heard?
A: It was a huge honour. With COVID-19, we needed to end the year off positively. (As valedictorian) it was an honour to be able to share stories and reflect on the times we’ve had together.
Q: What reflections or lessons are you taking forward with you this year out of COVID?
A: I’ve learned how important it is to work together.
We all experienced the same thing this year. We all were going through it. No one could do it alone. We needed to work together and be there for each other.
Teachers helped us so much. They helped us stay motivated.
This year, I think there were so many times when we felt lonely and like things were never going to get better. We really are all in this together.
Q: Do you participate in extracurriculars?
A: Yes. Since Grade 9, I’ve always wanted to do student leadership. That was my favourite club I was in. I did swim team and tennis team.
Q: What qualities make for a good leader?
A: Someone that has a voice. Someone who is willing to listen to other people’s ideas. Someone willing to take a stand for what’s right.
Q: Did you get to give a speech as valedictorian? How did the process work this year?
A: People who wanted to be valedictorian had to submit a video stating why they deserved to be named valedictorian and then Grade 12 students voted.
After I was told I had been chosen, I had to prepare a speech. We did have a graduation at the school, so each student got to walk across the stage and get their diploma, which was awesome. I went in a few weeks before, put on my cap and gown and did my speech which they recorded and was linked in the night of the graduation. It was really great.
Q: What was the message of your speech?
A: I reflected on this Grade 12 year and the obstacles we’ve faced during COVID. I also (talked about) what we should look forward to in the future.
Yes, this year has been full of challenges, but that’s just the beginning. I think my graduating class – we can conquer so much in the future, and we can change the world.
We’ve learned so much and we can use that as we grow.
Q: What are your plans for the fall?
A: I’m going into nursing next year at Georgian College in Owen Sound. I’ve always wanted to be a nurse ever since I was young. Biology and the sciences were my favourite subjects.
I’m really excited and am looking forward to the fall.
I want to be a nurse because I love being around others. My classmates would probably tell you I have the “gift of gab.”
I was always the kid talking. I was always getting in trouble for talking during class. (laughs)
I’ve been told I need to use that gift when I get older and pursue a job where I can help others. Nursing is an opportunity for me to do that. At school, I was able to do a co-op at a Collingwood nursing home. I absolutely loved it. Being around the seniors and getting to know them.
Nursing is a special job.
Q: There’s another Leah den Bok from Collingwood who is a photographer. Do you ever get confused with the other Leah den Bok?
A: She’s actually a long-distant cousin in my family, so we are related. She is older than me, and she spells her last name differently than I do.
It can get confusing. People will say, “Oh Leah, your photography is so great!” and I have to correct them. It’s funny that way.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like people in Collingwood to know about you?
A: I got myself to the position of valedictorian all just because of hard work. I think anyone can get to where they want to be if they put their mind to it.
The beginning of this year, walking in, it was a mess between virtual school, in-person school and going back and forth. There were so many times when I doubted myself, thinking I wasn’t going to get a graduation, or a prom, or the opportunity to do the things I wanted to do.
With the help of amazing staff, teachers, friends and the community of Collingwood, I’ve experienced so many things this year and have been given amazing opportunities because of dedication, hard work and never giving up.
I want people in Collingwood to know that through COVID, you can’t doubt yourself. Set goals. Put yourself out there and believe in yourself.
Even in hard times, good things can come out of it.
For our feature People of Collingwood, we’ll be speaking with interesting people who are either from or are contributing to the Collingwood community in some way, letting them tell their own stories in their own words. This feature will run on CollingwoodToday every Saturday. If you’d like to nominate or suggest someone to be featured in People of Collingwood, email firstname.lastname@example.org.