Catching Up!

Dear Ceanray,

What do you want to do next year?

Being a senior student in high school, I’m asked this question on a regular basis. It seems that everyone I meet, from my dentist to my friend’s parents, is curious about my future. I don’t mind answering the question, because I know what I want to do next year. I know what university I want to attend, what program I want to take, and what I want to do after I graduate. I also know, though, that many teenagers have no clue what they want to do after high school – so for them, this question can be tricky.

American poet Mary Oliver poses the question in a different way, one I actually prefer: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” If someone asked me this, the first words out of my mouth wouldn’t be the school I’m going to attend, or the subjects I’m going to study. I’d eventually explain my career aspirations, but I would start by talking about my hopes and dreams. I’d say that I want to meet new people and see new places; that I want to write and publish books, not necessarily as a career but for fun; and that I want to address inequalities in the world and make a positive difference in the lives of others.

I’m extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to further my education. However, education – at least in a formal sense – is only one aspect of my wild and precious life. It’s the aspect that many people choose to focus on, and ask me about: and it’s the one that I see many of my peers at school stressing out about. The imminent unknown of the future is scary, certainly, and being constantly questioned about it doesn’t help. But you can feel slightly less stressed by deferring to the second aforementioned question. What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Life truly is wild and precious – and we only get one chance at it. Use your one life to get educated, and to find something you love and make it your career if you’re able to, but don’t forget to make a life outside of school. Think about the things you want to accomplish over the course of your life, education-related and otherwise, and dedicate yourself to making those things happen.

What do I want to do next year?

I want to go to university to pursue a career in journalism: that’s the answer people expect me to give. But my more detailed answer? I want to go to university and pursue a career in journalism so that I can make the most of my one wild and precious life, while achieving the goals I stated earlier in my letter. When you think of the question in a broader sense, it seems a bit less daunting and a whole lot more exciting.

Here’s to our futures!

Sherina

 

Dear Sherina,

I can’t wait to see how your wild and exciting future turns out, which brings me to what I’d like to discuss with you: The fact is that in today’s day and age, everyone has access to instant information. Is this a blessing or a curse? We’ll see. In the meantime, it means is that information that might not have otherwise been widely known, is. This also means that misinformation can spread like wildfire – and often, it does.

A few days ago, an image which depicts dozens of dead bodies began to circulate among several of my social media ‘friends’.. The caption for the photo was something along the lines of “86 killed in Nigeria and Western media isn’t reporting it. Share to show that you care.” As it turns out, the photo was not current nor was it taken in Nigeria. It was taken in the aftermath of a gas tanker explosion in the Congo in 2010. It was, evidently, a tragedy and may those shown in the photograph rest in peace.

However, the danger here is that anyone can take an image and manipulate it to fit their desired narrative. When this is shared a million times, you have a legion of people angry that 86 Nigerians were killed and no one took notice. These people, who would be justified in their anger if this were in fact true, trusted the individual who posted the image. Most did not bother to authenticate the image for themselves – and herein lies the modern dilemma of instant news.

Now, more than ever, we need reliable sources of information. In a world that is evolving at every turn, we must know where we stand in the midst of it all. The news media cannot have their own ideological agenda that they feel obligated to advance at every possible opportunity. Although I am Canadian, I’ve been following the American presidential nominee race on both sides. I am routinely put off my media outlets with evident political bias, whether it be rooted in the political left or the political right.

Journalists have an obligation to be unbiased and critical for the sole purpose of informing the public, thereby enabling the public to make informed decisions for themselves.

As for your question – I would like to work in government because I strongly believe in its power to be a positive force in people’s lives. I sincerely hope that I will one day earn the opportunity to do this.

Ceanray

 

 

Election Day Eve: Making Our Voices Heard

Dear Sherina,

Happy Election Day Eve! Tomorrow millions of Canadians will be hitting the polls to decide who will be the Member of Parliament for their riding, and consequently who our Prime Minister will be. Whether you’re a conservative, new democrat or liberal, it’s important to research the issues and vote for who you think will do their best to represent you.

This election comes at a crucial time in Canadian history. Issues like energy and the environment, taxes, jobs, and national security are hot-button topics that cannot be ignored. Another topic that cannot be ignored is the incredibly low voter turnout among young Canadians. According to Elections Canada, 38.8% of 18-24 years olds showed up to the polls, compared to 75.1% of 65-74 year olds in the last federal election. This is simply inexcusable, especially considering the direct impact that issues like student loan debt and youth unemployment have on our young people.  

While I can’t speak on behalf of all young Canadians, I can say from personal experience that I have heard people complain about the government in conversation, while simultaneously exclaiming that there’s no point in voting, anyways. Seriously?!

We can’t afford to let ourselves fall silent when it comes time to decide who is best suited to lead our country. Research, listen and be an involved citizen. We are blessed to live in a democracy, let’s use it to make sure that we do everything we can to make our country the best version of itself.

Ceanray

Dear Ceanray,

Happy Election Day Eve to you as well! I’m finding it hard to believe that this election – the longest in Canadian history – ends tomorrow. The past months have felt long and at times tiresome.  Between televised debates, attack ads, lawn signs, and every other form of electoral information that is thrown our way, it’s hard to escape talk of politics. However, I’m not sure it’s something that people should aspire to escape from.

I completely agree with you that we cannot be silent when it comes to choosing our country’s leader. It is our democratic right to vote. If people do not exercise that right, they are not in a position to criticize the state of our country.

I find the statistics regarding low voter turnout for young people shocking. Though many of my peers are too young to vote, my social media feeds have been filled with comments about the candidates (and in particular, a “Stephen Harper Goodbye Party” which seems to have gone viral). Teens aren’t just making their voices heard on social media – they’re speaking up in real life, too. Lately at school, I’ve heard, and been apart of, many discussions relating to the election.

Despite the fact that I enjoy talking about politics, I don’t know who I would vote for (if I was of age). I have been fairly informed throughout this election cycle – watching the news, reading newspaper and magazine articles, discussing politics with like minded people – but when I am actually able to vote I will have to pay even more attention to the policies of my local Members of Parliaments, as well as the federal candidates.

Canada is great, and I am grateful to live here, but we do have some issues that need to be resolved. What excites me about the election is not just that I won’t have to see anymore ads of Justin Trudeau walking on an escalator; it is that with the possibility of a new government comes the possibility of change for our country. I hope that positive change results from whatever happens in regards to the election tomorrow night – and if it does not happen from the election, I hope at least something positive comes from the Blue Jays game.

Sherina

Countdown to Summer!

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Dear Ceanray,

As I’m sure you know, summer is quickly approaching. Final exams are being studied for, warm weather seems right around the corner, and soon school will take a backseat to life and summer fun for 2 months as students relax and unwind. Personally, I am really looking forward to relaxing this summer. My school year was great – I had cool learning experiences, met new people, laughed a lot, and had tons of fun. Still, I won’t miss having a calendar full of due dates or waking up early to get ready for school.

On certain occasions throughout the year (long weekends spent at my cottage, going on vacation on March Break), I have had “mini-summers” where I could unwind. Whenever I had the chance to do this, I would reflect on how I could make my life at home more like my life on vacation. Usually my answers included things like ‘wear sweatpants’, ‘sleep in’, and ‘read’ – things I don’t do very often when I’m not relaxing.

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As much as I try to incorporate the things i do on vacation into my everyday life, many things are exclusive to being on vacation (or being at my cottage). I can’t ride a jetski at home (can you imagine that thing in a pool?) and I can’t sleep in until noon on school days (well technically I could, but it’s probably not a great idea).

These are the things I am looking forward to most about summer; the things that I couldn’t do (and didn’t have time for) during the school year. I am so excited to go on vacations and road trips, to read in my backyard and even to apply liberal amounts of sunscreen before stepping out my front door (and then reapply it every hour).

I am ecstatic to read through the books on my Goodreads lists, to go to the mall and buy summer clothes, and to make the things on my Pinterest boards. My excitement for these things is part of what is keeping me afloat as school winds to an end. What are you looking forward to about summer, and how do you feel about school ending?

Sherina

Dear Sherina,

Ahh, finally summer is upon us. I’m looking forward to everything from no homework, hitting the gym and starting a new job! After having my nose buried in a textbook for what seems like forever, it’s so nice to finally have a break.

My to-do list for this summer includes a variety of tasks ranging from cleaning out my closet to finishing the Mortal Instruments book series. I also have a few passion projects going on at the moment. I joined a group founded in Canada called “Peace of Mind” which comprises of teenagers from across the province who are devoted to raising awareness and erasing the stigma surrounding mental illness.

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This particular cause is very near and dear to my heart. Mental illness in teens is often met with misunderstanding and judgement for those who suffer from it. Where I live, there has been at least half a dozen teen suicides within the past month or so. This needs to change.

I’m so very grateful that not only do we get a chance to relax by the pool and sip lemonade over the summer, we also get the chance to pursue other projects that we don’t have time for during the year.

Here’s to a great summer!

Ceanray

Readers, what are you counting down the days for? Let us know in the comments!

On Stress

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Dear Ceanray,

I’m sure you have heard conversations at school where people compare the amount of sleep they get each night. I always find these conversations frighteningly enlightening. I am frightened, of course, by the sheer lack of sleep some of my peers get. “I get two hours on a good night,” I once heard someone say. This is scary.

I am enlightened by the reasons why my peers get such little sleep. It is sometimes because of Netflix or cell phones; but often, it is because of their gigantic workload. Many students have part-time jobs, and participate in sports or other out-of school activities (sometimes at a competitive level). And that’s not to mention homework, and school co-curriculars.

No wonder teens are getting such little sleep; our waking hours are filled to the brim. The fact that all of the activities we are involved in cause us to be stressed doesn’t help, either. Stress manifests itself in physical symptoms – exhaustion, headaches, illnesses – and also mental and emotional symptoms.

Stress only grows as our to-do lists grow; and yet, we can’t abandon the to-do list because that would cause us to be more stressed. Sometimes, though, it is necessary for us to take a break and relax. Relaxing can come in many different forms; reading, spending time with family or friends, or taking a well-deserved nap. It can also be spending time pursuing a passion that doesn’t make it onto your to-do list like writing or painting.

Another way to deal with stress is by prioritizing. Although it’s tempting to try to finish your entire to-do list in one night, it’s probably not very likely to happen; nor is it the best use of your time. Aim to do the most important things first (eg. the things due tomorrow) and then work on one or two longer projects (eg. a project due next week). Use the time you saved not tackling everything on your to-do list to relax. This will clear your mind, and make you feel less stressed!

One way that I like to “de-stress” myself is by rediscovering my motivation and passion for what I am doing. When I become stressed, I forget why I’m doing the things I am doing; when I remember the reason and the fog clears, I am reminded of what is important and what I should devote most of my time to.

How do you deal with stress?

Sherina

Dear Sherina,

Well said! The thing is, high school students in particular are more stressed out now than they have ever been and anxiety disorders in teens are worryingly common.

Only a few years ago, my biggest worry was if I’d have enough time to squeeze in an episode of Hannah Montana before dance class. Now, I’m having to make decisions about the courses I take next year and what will affect my ability to apply for different universities in various faculties. This is one of my primary sources of stress. Which brings me to –

The Future.

What an exciting and terrifying idea! It’s fun to imagine myself 10, 20 years from now and wonder what my life will be like. The thing is, I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. I am constantly reminded by adults to just “enjoy being young” when I voice my concerns for my future – this is proving to be quite difficult. The voice in the back of my mind telling me to succeed now or pay the price later doesn’t help the situation.

I can also sympathize with a number of the other causes of stress you mentioned. Some nights I don’t get home from various extracurriculars and sports until after 10:30 pm, which leaves me studying and doing homework long past my bedtime. Waking up the next day feeling like a zombie certainly doesn’t help matters.

To manage stress, I find exercise as my primary source of relief. Going for a run or heading to the gym is a quick and healthy way to clear my head, along with traditional methods (bubble baths!)

All in all, summer is within reach and that’s what will keep me going through these last few hectic months!

Ceanray

Fabletters on Body Image: Part One

Dear Sherina,

As young women, you and I are both well aware of the pressure that is placed on us to look a certain way. Body image is an integral part of our lives and how we view ourselves. We live in a consumer culture that wants us to be insecure about our looks, so we’re enticed to purchase products that will supposedly help us feel better about ourselves.

This is a topic that hits close to home for me, as I have struggled with body image and disordered eating since I was ten years old. Growing up, I was similar in size and shape compared to most of my friends. However around the age of thirteen,  I grew five inches in the span of six months and began to notice changes in my body that were scary albeit completely natural for someone my age. I became extraordinarily self conscious when I had to start wearing women’s sizes because kid’s clothes no longer fit me.

The girls I watched religiously on television all seemed to look the same way – petite and slender, and I thought there was something wrong with me because my body looked nothing like theirs. A toxic cycle of not eating enough/ eating far too much consumed my preteen and early teenage years.

It took me awhile to realize I was not the only one who felt this way about my body. One of my close friends revealed to me that she was also suffering from an eating disorder. I was shocked — how could this skinny fit friend of mine possibly hate how she looked?

“My hips are too wide”, she told me “I can pinch the fat on my arms and stomach”.

Although we bared little physical resemblance, we had both been trapped in a seemingly endless web of self-hatred and guilt.

The first time I began to form a positive image of myself was about a year ago — and it didn’t come from losing weight. I joined a gym and started exercising regularly, it wasn’t until I started conquering my fitness goals that I realised my body had a purpose that wasn’t purely superficial.

I soon realized that everyone looks different and is built in different ways. If we all looked the same, that would be dreadfully boring and ultimately unfulfilling. Once I stopped comparing myself to others, I became my own biggest competitor in a positive and life changing way.

The scary part is that my story is not unique. A recent study conducted by Dove noted that 40% of girls between first and third grade wish to be thinner. I fear that I may one day have a daughter who feels the way I once did (and still sometimes do). Young girls should be worried about who they’re going to play with after school – not how much they weigh.

What do you think?

Ceanray