Next month my middle child will graduate from university.
She left home for university a few years ago, full of hopes and dreams. I prayed her journey would be easy and her burdens would be light. But I knew that as a northern child she would face many challenges on the path to her degree. Those of you who have northern children will understand what I mean.
Because your child is a northern child, she is statistically far less likely to have parents with a high school education and even less likely to have parents with a post-secondary degree. Because she is a northern child, she has had less access to health care and is far more likely to experience chronic illness. Because she is a northern child she has had next to no access to mental health services and statistically has a lower life expectancy. Because she is a northern child, she has had fewer options in her K-12 education and fewer opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities, including opportunities in the arts.
Because your child is a northern child, her challenges continue on the first day of college. On that first day, when the children of your urban friends come home to a hot dinner and folded laundry and someone who cares, your child will come home to fast food or a hastily cooked meal she will make herself. Your child will come home to laundry that needed to be done; laundry may never be folded again. Your child will come home to a dorm of kids she doesn't know or an empty apartment.
Because your child is a northern child, she will use her hard earned summer cash to pay the rent and buy food while the children of your urban friends make car payments and buy concert tickets and take spring break in Mexico. She will wrack up debt while others save money.
Because your child is a northern child, she will experience discrimination. People will tell her, in ways subtle and not so subtle, that she is a hick because she grew up in a small town. At times she may doubt her abilities when she realizes that didn't go to the right high school where she didn't have a chance to take calculus or computer programming or belong to the right club or a competitive sports team.
Because your child is a northern child, she may experience terrible loneliness. Your child may struggle. At times, she will feel she doesn't belong and she doesn't fit in and she may not know what to do or where to go. And your child will do all of that all on her own. And while she may give in to feelings of despair and frustration, she will not give up. Because your child is a northern child.
And because your child is a northern child, when she completes her education she will know she worked far harder than her urban counterparts to get her degree. Because she obtained more than an academic education. She learned how to be her own person on her own terms in her own way. When she was sick, she found a doctor. When the rent was due, she paid it. When her friends stayed behind, she made new ones. Your northern child took responsibility for her own life.
And whether your child spends weeks or years in her studies; whether she chooses to return to the north, or travels even further afield, no matter where she goes or what she does, your child has the strength of the north in her bones. Your child has northern ingenuity in her blood. Your child has the pioneer spirit of her ancestors in her heart. She will bloom wherever she plants herself.
Because your child is a northern child.