Isabella Gonzalez Kaminski, a Grade 12 student from Sidney, has won a $5,000 scholarship from the Horatio Alger Association of Canada.
Horatio Alger scholarships are awarded to high school students in financial need who have “overcome significant adversity while demonstrating strength of character, strong academics, a commitment to pursuing higher education as well as a desire to contribute to society.”
Gonzalez was born in Mexico and now lives with her mother in Sidney. The family live apart from her father, who remains in Mexico financially supporting their extended family. As a result, Gonzalez only ever sees her father twice each year – for a week around her birthday when he comes to visit, and at Christmas, when she and her mother travel to Mexico.
“I’ve gotten more used to it but it’s hard, even now. With my achievements and doing well in my Grade 12 year, it is hard to be separated from someone you are so close to,” she says.
Gonzalez speaks with her father every day on the phone and says he is proud she will be the first person on the Mexican side of their family to go to university.
“He inspires me so much. From a young age he completely instilled in me: learn everything you can.”
Gonzalez is warm and energetic, she describes herself as “academically driven,” and decided to attend Claremont Secondary School as she thought a bigger school would present more of a personal challenge. She plays sports and also runs a number of clubs, including the Jeopardy club and one that welcomes new international students to the school.
Part of the reason Gonzalez was awarded the scholarship was because of her work in the community. Last year, while working as a barista, Gonzalez realized that the used coffee grounds went to the landfill. With the help of two school friends, she set up a program collecting Sidney coffeehouses’ used grounds and delivering them to farmers for use in fertilizer.
Gonzalez is grateful to her teachers and school counsellor for helping her apply for the scholarship, as she says the financial award will be helpful in assisting fund her post-secondary education.
It comes at the right time as Gonzalez was recently accepted to the University of British Columbia, where she will be studying environmental sustainability.
When asked if she has thought of a future career after university she smiles.
“I’m drawn to the political side, I always said to myself ‘Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna, that’s me,’” she laughs. “That’s where I’d like to see myself.”
The Horatio Alger Association of Canada awarded $900,000 worth of scholarships this year and has awarded $5.1 million since 2012. Gonzalez agrees with the sentiment of using spirit and determination to carve one’s own path and to impact society in a positive way.
“I think it’s important to go out and find something that drives you, that you feel deep in your stomach is your passion and you need to do. You have to be the change you wish to see.”