Devoting yourself to your school community would be a good start, if you want to try it Gorick Ng's way. The Grade 12 student at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute was recently accepted to Harvard, Yale and Princeton, considered the top-rung schools in the United States. They also offered financial assistance to the student trustee for the Toronto District School Board and the president of the Ontario Student Trustee Association. The young Torontonian has been named a finalist as one of Canada's top 20 under 20 and crafted policies for students in schools across Ontario - all before his 18th birthday this February.
He spoke with The Globe and Mail about the postsecondary path before him, what exactly a student trustee does and how he's excelled in that role for the past four years.
Congratulations on your offers - which school will you pick?
When I got my acceptance from Yale, it really relieved me from a lot of essay writing, because I knew it was my second choice. It was a very pleasant surprise, I must say. I was just waiting on Harvard and on March 9th, I got a letter [which read]"We send such an early indication only to outstanding candidates." So to have a letter like this from an institution like Harvard was just … words could not describe what was going through my mind at that moment.
Pure joy, I'd expect. And it wasn't just marks that got you there - much of it had to do with your work as a student trustee. How did you get started with that?
I was the only one to go to Marc Garneau from my elementary school. I got involved with student council because I actually wanted to meet some new people and thought, 'Well, I'm going to be spending my next four years at this high school, I might as well make the most use of my opportunities here.' Then I was elected to the TDSB's student super-council and ran for student trustee.
Has your role as a trustee shaped your career aspirations?
In Grade 8 I wanted to go into medicine so I applied for TOPS [Talented Offerings for Programs in the Sciences]at Marc Garneau. But it came as a surprise to me that all of the things I do in my spare time have nothing to do with math. I just thought to myself, 'If I was to do something for the rest of my life, it should be something that I'm interested in.' It turned out that it had something to do with leadership, communicating and interacting with people, something to do with public service. I'm leaning towards [studying]economics and government.
What's the job of a student trustee really like with all the meetings, etc.?
A large majority of the meetings we go to are with adults - the board, senior staff, the director and trustees, of course. And our job is basically to represent the student voice during these meetings. We don't actually have a binding vote. A lot of the changes we want to see really have to happen through our speeches, through policy making and anything else that circumvents the vote.
Do you often get the floor?
I try to speak up every meeting because it's good to keep the student presence there. I realize it's easy for the decision makers to overlook the students, especially since trustees were elected to represent taxpayers.
Your constituents don't pay taxes. Is it hard to make the students care?
It's always a challenge because students don't typically see themselves as policy makers. They see themselves as quite detached from the decision makers. So my first challenge [as trustee]was really to show students that young people are in fact capable of making a difference.
How did you show that?
One of the things I really wanted to do was to put students down on paper when it comes to policies and things like that. During my first term, I wrote what's called the Student Leadership Policy which mandates democratically elected student councils in all the middle and high schools throughout the board. That was literally a by-students, for-students policy.
And last year, you managed to help block the impending vending machine ban in Toronto schools.
That was an interesting experience because, to my knowledge at least, the majority of trustees walked into the room wanting to vote for the ban. I stood up and gave a three-minute speech talking about how I literally received hundreds of e-mails within 48 hours talking about why vending machines were important in schools. I was one of the last people to speak and obviously it reversed the votes.
Would you say the role of student trustee is changing, perhaps becoming more active?
It's definitely changing, especially with the Ontario Student Trustee Association. There are between one and three trustees in every school board who regularly appear in media, they make policy changes - we really want to keep track of that and really celebrate the great accomplishments of young people.
As a student trustee and full-time student, your schedule is packed. Do you ever get a break?
A lot of people ask me, "Well, what do you do on your spare time?" And I tell them this is what I do. I like to do student leadership, I like to interact with people. This is really my hobby.