My parents are originally from Nigeria, born and raised. They moved to Ireland before I was born, and I am an Irish citizen who now lives in Canada. When I was younger, I rejected my Nigerian side because I couldn’t understand the culture, even though my parents were so proud of their Nigerian roots. It was especially hard because I had been raised around Irish and Canadian culture, which is very different to Nigerian culture. When my grandparents came to visit, I didn’t understand some of the things they said and did and wanted me to do, and I turned my back on a lot of the things that they tried to teach me. When I was younger, I definitely wasn’t proud of my Nigerian roots, and looking back now I am sad about that and I am sorry because I know it was probably hard for my parents, seeing me reject my roots.
When I did eventually start embracing my roots it unlocked a part of me which I wish I had accessed a long time ago. I wish I had learned the language. I wish I had more fully embraced the Nigerian culture. I would say that if you are being bullied or feeling social pressure to conform to something you are not, don’t do it! Be proud of who you are. Don’t push away from opportunities to get to know where you come from, because I know that the part of me that is Nigerian has helped shape me into who I am today, which is a proud Irish, Nigerian, Canadian.
I realized not too long ago that if I continued to shut out so many different parts of me, I was going to lose a part of who I am, and I now realize I don’t want that to happen.
Living in Cranbrook was not the easiest for me. I had a hard time finding friends and experienced quite a lot of bullying. Because of the bullying, I was very unhappy and it really affected me emotionally. I would pretend to be happy, but internally I was very unhappy and it came to the point where I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be happy. I had been faking it for such a long time. I knew I had to leave because I knew I wanted that feeling of genuine happiness to come back, and I knew that in order for that to happen I needed a fresh start. Shawnigan was the fresh start I needed.
One of the greatest things about coming to Shawnigan was that I made my first black friends. I was very excited because I found I immediately had a special connection with them, because we shared some similar experiences in our lives because of the color of our skin and backgrounds. For the first time ever, I didn’t feel like I had to conform, and be somebody who I wasn’t. I was finally comfortable being myself because I had people around me who accepted me for me.
Being at Shawnigan is awesome because our community is so diverse — I love that the most about our School. Shawnigan reminds me of my own family. My parents spoke Yoruba at home together, so I understand what it's like to grow up with different languages and cultures, and not being able to understand sometimes. It has made me especially sympathetic to those who come to Shawnigan when English isn’t their first language and how that can be hard. I feel like it's made me a more understanding and compassionate person and I feel like I look out for people who might need a bit more help connecting.
Shawnigan’s environment is a very positive one. It’s obvious that the students at Shawnigan are not here based on the color of their skin, or where they are from, but because of who they are as people first. It doesn't feel like the reason I am here is because I am black, but instead because I deserve to be here because of who I am as a person, and the belief that I can bring some value to our School.
I am lucky to have some amazing people in my life because of Shawnigan. People like Deja and Nnnena have been so supportive of me while I have been here. I admire how confident they are, which is something I have always struggled with. They have always been real and genuine and are not scared to speak up when something isn’t right. They inspire me to be better each day.
The Chapel also contributed to me coming to Shawnigan. Having a Chapel and a weekly service to go to has made a world of difference to me, as it reminds me of family and home. The Rev does such a good job of bringing everyone together for a shared experience, despite coming from many different faiths. I do not feel uncomfortable at all, and I know lots of my friends who are from different religious backgrounds feel like the Chapel is a safe and welcoming environment where they are embraced no matter what their religious affiliation is.
We celebrated Black History Month for the first time in Chapel last week. We thought that it would be good to recognize it and we hope to continue it for years to come. I think we are working on bringing awareness of different cultures here at Shawnigan, through special chapel services and lunches. It’s so fascinating what we learn! I think we just need to continue to hear from students about their backgrounds and cultures because I think it helps make for a more accepting and tolerant community.
I hope that everyone at Shawnigan will continue to embrace each other for all their differences, because with a more open mind we will have a more open school!
We acknowledge with respect the Coast Salish Peoples on whose traditional lands and waterways we live, learn and play. We are grateful for the opportunity to share in this beautiful region, and we aspire to healthy and respectful relationships with those who have lived on and cared for these lands for millennia.
Shawnigan Lake School is an independent co-educational boarding school for ages 13 –18 on Canada’s beautiful West Coast. Our diverse, interdisciplinary and innovative programming helps shape the next generation of global leaders.