Valedictorians: Strathcona’s Sarah Freeman | Edmonton Sun

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Like many of her peers, Sarah is looking forward to attending the University of Alberta in the fall, where she will study astrophysics in the BSc Honors program. But more than that: “I am excited to move forward in my life, supported by the confidence, purpose and community I have found in my years at Scona.”

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I read a book by a philosopher named Sandra Harding a while ago. And she spoke about elephants in a way that has stayed with me; about how a person standing inches from an elephant sees only a gray wall in front of him. Or how someone else sees a tusk and imagines it to be a spear. And she tells how often one’s view of the elephant is shaped by their intentions with it – the cook sees things very differently than the zookeeper. Really, it’s more of a story about perspective than about elephants. About how our worldview is constructed by reality, colored by interpretation, subjectivity and emotion. And when I think about the past years, I keep coming back to it.

Because for me, looking back on my high school experience is all about perspective. I feel like I’m standing right next to the (metaphorical) elephant of time and memory and history. I don’t see the elephant in its entirety; I see a close up. When I think about the past three years, they come back to me in stories, little fragments of memories that are more often Polaroids than feature films. Snapshots of my (short) acting career, playing Raphael for a social project, or sprinting around the track in a cardboard boat at GYLO, or petting the dogs at Student Services.

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And sure, stories like these are perhaps the tiniest folds in the elephant’s skin. But if I run my hand over it, I can feel all the emotions that were part of my high school experience; for a moment I am taken back to that day, that space, that atmosphere. So maybe it’s better to really experience these small moments than to zoom out so far that you can see the big picture, and lose focus in the process. To embrace the ambiguity and emotion of the little things, and avoid falling into the trap of distorted oversimplification.

That’s hard when you’ve been through the past three years. It seems as if everything is framed in the big picture. The pandemic, all the socio-cultural upheavals, the climate crisis, it all seems to be enclosed by the establishment of a dividing line between the ‘before’ and the ‘after’. But even as this lens dominates the news feeds, I know that young people are making stories, little bits of memories, and everyday acts of courage. That the people of our generation know the power of small scale. Because I see this kind of promotion every day at Scona. It is taking a chance on a new subject, such as photography or improvisation or psychology. Compliments to people you don’t know in the hallways, and wave ‘hello’ to those you do know. Ask for help when you need it and help others where you can. And while our world is increasingly looking like it’s dominated by the big things, I walk the halls of Scona week after week, convinced that these little gestures continue to flourish.

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Farewell Questions and Answers

How do you think the pandemic has changed your high school experience?

When I look back on my high school experience, the pandemic has hit us the most by forcing us to grow. I don’t think this pandemic was a blessing in disguise or anything like that; I don’t think this personal growth makes up for the pain and suffering that is inflicted on so many people. I just think it shows that we can adapt and build something new when our world collapses around us.

What’s the one takeaway that you think should come out of the upheaval over the past two years?

Between online school, pandemic precautions and getting sick myself, the pandemic created opportunities for me to spend time with myself. It showed me the power of making time to read, cycle or knit, simply as a way of being present. Often I return to Ocean Vuong’s description of time alone as “time spent with the world” because I think it encompasses the sense of peace and connection I feel in these moments. When external circumstances are as unpredictable as they are now, I am so grateful to find moments of relaxation and reflection, and I hope that everyone who has experienced this tumult will have opportunities to do the same.

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What is your favorite thing about Edmonton?

Every afternoon after I get home from school, I turn on a podcast and get on my bike and ride through the River Valley. In the spring I see the trees and undergrowth begin to bud, and in the summer I see it explode into vibrant green. In the fall I hear the leaves creaking under my tires and in the winter I feel the icy snowflakes melt on my eyelashes. I feel like I can really connect with nature and the world when I’m in the River Valley, and I’m so grateful to live in a city where I can make every day a part of my day.

Who is your hero?

I look up to my mother. She’s the nicest person I know – she celebrates my successes with me, and she bakes banana bread on days when I’m sad. She always knows how to say the right thing in any situation, and being with her makes every moment seem important, even if it’s as small as helping me knit or getting chai lattes together. I can’t imagine my life without her, and if I can build a life even half as kind, compassionate, and fulfilling as she is, it will be the best life I could wish for.

What is your favorite quote or expression?

“And I urge you to please notice when you’re happy, and at some point exclaim or mumble or think, ‘If this isn’t fun, I don’t know what it is.'” (Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country)

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