Elizabeth Duncan and Rebecca Hass in The Life Inside at the Belfry Theatre.

Oak Bay teen sets the stage for Harvard

Prioritizing studies over stage reaps major reward

Elizabeth Duncan will hone a keen interest in Humanties at Harvard this fall after cultivating a broad, and rewarding, knowledge base in her final two years of high school.

The Oak Bay teen is a familiar face to the local theatre set, starting with a couple of ballet productions, the Nutcracker and Alice in Wonderland, as a youngster.

“That started an interest in being on stage,” the 17-year-old said. Then she tagged along with a friend to audition for Beauty and the Beast with the Victoria Operatic Society at age eight.

“I ended up with the part,” Duncan said. “When I was 12, I started doing professional theatre.”

Her stage career is marked by a pair of new musicals at the Belfry – Let Me Call You Sweetheart in 2013 and The Life Inside in 2010 – and the Blue Bridge 2013 production Brighton Beach Memoirs.

The last couple of years however, she’s been absent from the stage. She took a break, going from five productions in her Grade 10 year to enrolling in the International Baccalaureate program at Glenlyon Norfolk School in Grade 11

“It’s very intense, so unfortunately that meant cutting back on theatre,” she said.

The IB program consists of three university level curriculum courses and three standard courses: theory of knowledge; Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) hours and an independent research project that entails a 4,000-word essay.

She started the course with the goal of attending an elite U.S. university. She’d applied to a few that “had a really good combination of smaller size and top faculty and academics,” she said.

“I knew I had to take one of the more rigorous programs my school offered,” she said. “I’m happy I did it. You feel you’ve really accomplished something.”

That feeling set in as she wrapped 15 exams over two weeks in May, some nearly three hours long.

“In a day you could be writing five yours of exams with an hour break,” she said. “It felt so good the last day.”

She leaves mid-August for Harvard, a school that had already accepted her when she logged on to find out her IB scores this summer. The scoring in each section is marked one to seven with three possible extra points, making a top score of 45.

“It’s really nerve-wracking,” she said of the moments logging in and scrolling through her grades.

Sevens kept appearing.

“At first I really thought it was a mistake,” she said.

There were no errors. The Oak Bay teen is among five students across Canada to achieve a perfect score of 45 on the IB exams this year. The recent Glenlyon Norfolk School grad is among the 45 students worldwide to score 100 per cent from more than 140,000 students worldwide who wrote the exams.

Despite the studying and tedious exam schedule she’s happy she pursued the IB program.

“It’s good way to make sure you have a good breadth of studies going on,” she said.

She plans to maintain that variety of studies during her first year of university.


When she visited Harvard campus the week after learning of her acceptance, Duncan found it “vibrant and friendly,” she said. “There was a lot of life there and a lot of good things going on.”



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