LA COREY – Out of thousands of high school students across the province, Erin Walker, a La Corey resident, couldn’t have been more surprised when she discovered that she was one of eight recipients in Alberta to receive the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Citizenship Award.
The 2021 Cold Lake High School Valedictorian spoke with Lakeland This Week from her new home in Calgary where she recently finished her first year of a Bachelor of Health Sciences Honours degree at the University of Calgary in the Cumming School of Medicine.
“Why they chose me out of those 100 (Premier’s Citizenship Award recipients) I'm not quite sure. I mean, it was definitely an honour and I'm so grateful for it,” said Walker.
“It's a nice feeling to be recognized out of that many students, but I don't think I necessarily did anything different than anybody else.”
At the end of Walker’s high school career, she was selected out of her graduating class to receive the Premier’s Citizenship Award, which is given to one student from every high school across the province.
The award came with a letter from Premier Jason Kenney congratulating her and recognizing Walker for the contributions she made to her community. The more than 100 student recipients of the Premier’s award are also considered for the eight Queen’s Golden Jubilee Citizenship Awards, which come with a medal and a $5,000 scholarship.
The prestigious award honours students who have contributed to their communities through outstanding citizenship, leadership, public service and volunteer activities.
Walker continued, “I was involved in volunteer opportunities in my high school and in my community throughout high school because those (opportunities) were what I was interested in. I wasn't working towards the goal of winning any awards in the end, especially not this one – but this obviously is fantastic.”
The La Corey native still recalls being given an application form where she was asked to fill in all the community and leadership initiatives she had been involved in from junior to senior high school.
“So basically, I put all of that in a chart and I sent it to the government through my high school.”
While Walker was still in high school, she organized and assisted with her school’s student leadership group and environmental club, spirit days and many fundraising events for local charities.
Outside of school she participated in Challenger Baseball, which holds minor league baseball for community members with physical and cognitive impairments, and coached for the Lakeland Gymnastics program.
“I was just volunteering in groups that I was interested in,” she emphasized.
Walker also took an active role in her school’s Best Buddies program and the Unified Sports program.
“It's super fun and the goal is to be out of the house and everybody having the same opportunities as everyone else. It's about equity and providing everybody with equal experience.”
Due to her participation in those programs, she was selected to be a delegate at the 2019 Unified Youth Leadership Conference in Toronto.
“I learned lots of leadership skills throughout that experience and working with Special Olympics that I could bring back to my high school and organize more of these events,” she reflected.
Looking back at her years in high school and the things she accomplished, Walker shared, “My biggest advice to those students in high school or at the end of middle school is – just do what you're interested in.”
She continued, “If you're interested in sports – do those. If you're interested in leadership and being a leader in your community, start to get involved in those groups and enjoy yourself while you're doing it. If you're not having a fun time, then you're in the wrong place.”
Once you’ve found your niche, you will know it, she says.
New life lessons
Over the last year, however, Walker has faced a flurry of changes since packing up her life and moving nearly six hours away to complete a major in Biomedical Sciences.
The transition has made unexpected impacts on her capacity to volunteer, she admits.
“(Volunteering) is definitely something that I've missed in my first year. I've done a little bit of it, but I haven't been involved to the same level as I had been in high school, which is a goal for myself in second year, because when talking about the burnout of university, one of the things that fixes that is making time – hard as it is to do – for things that you really enjoy,” Walker said.
“And volunteering is something that I enjoy and it's hard not to have a full heart and a clear and happy mind when you're working with students and community members with disabilities.”
She noted that in general it has become more difficult to find opportunities to get involved within a university setting.
“In high school, it seems all the opportunities were right in front of me. That's one of the really nice things about high school is that your teachers tell you about them or there's posters or somebody mentions it at assembly,” she expressed.
“But when you're in university, you're on your own. You are there to go to school and live and make your own money and find your own opportunities.”
But, as the young academic begins her first summer break as an undergraduate, she has already started searching for volunteer opportunities that will help her connect to the Calgary community.
“I know it sounds cheesy, but just do things that make you happy and work hard at what you like. If you like it and if you decided to do it – then put your all into it,” she said.
“That's pretty much what I did, and I think it worked out pretty well for me.”