A View From the “Top”: Getting Involved and Getting Ahead at Waterloo Collegiate Institute

Each June, high school administration in the community is tasked with nominating two of their best and brightest to join the ranks of the “Region’s Top Students.” The prestigious list, compiled by The Record, aims to recognize those who have gone a ways beyond what is asked of them as members of Ontario’s education system. These, as the publication states, are people “who have not only achieved solid marks, but who have also devoted time, skills and enthusiasm to community building.”

At Waterloo Collegiate Institute, the weighty decision is left in the hands of a diverse committee of administrators, teachers and key student figures. For the 2014-2015 school year, the group selected fourth-year student Sonja Katanic and fifth-year student Mitchell Phillips to represent the school on the annual report. When asked for his opinion on the true spirit of the award, Phillips responded that he felt it was about being a well-rounded student “and hopefully making an impact on the school. At least [he’d] like to think.” And if their accolades were to say anything, both students had certainly done just that.

So what is being one of the region’s top students really all about?

Sonja, an accomplished artist, dancer, student and editor for the online zine Plasma Dolphin believes that at WCI there is no need to sacrifice an academic career for an extra-curricular one: “The way that our school works is that it is all very integrated.” She came to the realization very early on, that at WCI, part of excelling within the classroom, was developing skills and personal traits without, and vice versa.

Mitchell, a proponent of completing high school in five years, is of the opinion that an extra semester allows for the time to fit in those last few opportunities that otherwise may have been missed. “It gave me the time to not only focus on school, but focus on being a part of the school,” he said of his fifth-year decision. Now a first-year mechatronics student at University of Waterloo, that decision certainly appears to have paid off. In his capacity as co-mayor, Mitchell not only balanced an incredibly demanding course-load, but did so while excelling in varsity volleyball, the school’s production of Alice in Wonderland and his work with countless organizational committees.

Despite their so-obvious successes, each student is not without regret. “There were certain things—sports in particular—that I didn’t attack well enough earlier on.” Sonja said of her four years as a Viking. Mitchell, echoing her thoughts, felt that he realized his love of theater far too late. “There were other productions like Fame and… Footloose that I missed out on.” Both students expressed a lack of confidence in their earlier years and, given the chance, would not waste time in broadening their horizons a second time around.

Nor did either student feel that class time was merely a means to an end. Outside of their university admission requirements, each student had the chance to take several courses that were suited to their personal interests. Mitchell expressed a love for his time in grade 12 Earth and Space sciences, while Sonja was vocal about an interest in politics, beyond merely what she had learned in the grade 12 class. The first-year Global Business and Digital Arts student had this to say of the experience: “After being exposed to [politics], I realized how useful it was.” The pair remains confident that there is room for personal growth along the race for university acceptance.

The “Region’s Top Students” received a photo and copy of the publication for their efforts. “It’s just kind of a recognition thing,” said Mitchell. To these two, the real prize was the four (or five) involved, entertaining and entirely successful years in high school.

The “Region’s Top Students” will be released once again in June 2016 and the tradition is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.