Boarding school is a privilege, not just for the privileged.

By definition, I suppose I grew up privileged.

Sitting in Manila, a little closer than most to the recent devastation of Typhoon Haiyan or Yolanda as it is called here, I cannot help but reflect on the many blessings I have enjoyed in my lifetime. Manila was spared so today it is mostly life as usual, not so obviously for the hundreds of thousands left homeless and the thousands dead to the Southeast here in the Philippines. As we see the photos and read the newspaper accounts it is heartbreaking. We are very fortunate living in Canada.

Next to my family, one of the blessings I am counting was the opportunity to attend a boarding school from Grade 9 to 13 (yes, prior to 2001 Ontario had a 13 year system instead of 12).

I had attended camp every summer from the time I was eight so I jumped at the chance to go to a boarding school where I could live the camp life of camaraderie and action, but also have the chance to have an education few in Canada and around the globe are afforded.

My parents could not afford boarding school. In fact, due the recession in the 70’s my family was flirting with bankruptcy. I attended boarding school thanks to the generosity of a close family friend who cared enough about me to see that given the rough times ahead at home, living in an area with a bit of a drug culture (a couple of my elementary school friends’ older siblings were already in trouble), and grades beginning to drop, I was “at risk”. I had been a good student and a good boy so I was not being “sent away” rather my parents saw boarding school as a real opportunity for me at a time when I could have been led down a different path by the alternative environment where I could have spent those very formative years. Boarding school was a ‘guarantee’ I would be surrounded by a cohort destined for university.

I competed in the annual scholarship competition at my school and won a bursary which helped cover some of the expenses. Our family friend covered the remaining tuition and boarding fees and my parents covered the incidentals. Along the way, I never felt that I did not belong at the school. I just knew comparatively, I could not compete with the wealth of many of my friends, nor do everything that they did in their spare time. At school, I got to do everything they did however. I got to play football, live in France for four months on a one-way exchange, learn to play the bagpipes, make lifelong friends and be supported in my studies to get to go to Queen’s University. I appreciated every experience. Because it was a privilege.

Something I learned along the way was that coming from a wealthy family, did not harbour you from most of the problems of a less affluent family, e.g. finding happiness, losing a parent or friend, mental illness, economic hardship, or academic challenges. A saying that stuck with me along the way is “everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time.”

I am thankful for my family, my health, our family friend, good friends I have made and the opportunity to give back by promoting Lakefield College School to talented students across Canada and around the world who’s parents may not be able to afford the entire cost of attending the school either as a boarder or a day student. I am grateful that LCS can offer $1.6 million dollars per year in financial assistance and that many more CAIS boarding schools across the country do as well in order to help people like me, get a leg up in life and experience a level of education that otherwise might not be accessible.

It seems strange to me to be thinking about a privilege like a boarding school education in a time of such great devastation and disaster. In times of great loss, I cannot help it, I feel fortunate and count my many blessings.