Shawna M. Sellars is an inspiration.
The 23-year-old Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake student celebrated graduating from the business office assistant with bookkeeping applications program on May 25 and spoke as the 2012 valedictorian.
A First Nations woman from the Soda Creek Indian Band, Sellars has had sole custody of her four younger sisters — aged 16, 14, nine and seven — for almost five years.
She was born in Kamloops and lived back and forth between Williams Lake and Vancouver for a total of eight years.
“I was a foster child during my entire childhood, living in over 30 foster homes and 12 different schools. I have now lived in Williams Lake for 12 years. As Mayor Kerry Cook would say I decided to become an overcomer instead of a victim.”
She had a rough time in high school and did not graduate.
“I did not have the honour of being a graduate, getting my hair done, being in the grad parade or anything to do with prom.
“Upon graduation from the applied business technology program I will also finish my grade 12 diploma.”
Sharing what motivated her to return to school, she recalled working in a local restaurant.
“I spent my job sweeping and mopping floors, doing dishes and helping the odd customer. After doing that for a couple of months I realized I was much more capable of doing more.”
Sellars is involved with causes around child welfare and regularly speaks about her experiences of being in care.
“This allows me to empower others like myself and inform others that don’t know much about what happens from the child’s point of view. This is something I’m very passionate about.”
In the past year she has spoken in front of crowds as big as 400 people at least a dozen times.
“I believe that people cannot fix things until they know what has been broken,” she said.
Throughout the year Sellars maintained an A average, and was the recipient of the most inspirational, leadership and academic achievement awards in her class.
“It’s nice to be recognized for the hard work you put in,” she said.
Many late nights were spent with fellow student Kathryn Allan in the computer lab.
“We spent the evenings working to meet deadlines that seemed to work well with student council having meetings and having pizza inside the cafeteria. You can never go wrong with pizza.”
Some of the things she’s interested in pursuing include social work, teaching and chief of her community.
“I believe in setting my goals high because that gives me something to strive for. What I’ve realized attending school is you can choose what you want to be; the tough part is choosing the path to achieve that.”
Likening Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake to a family, Sellars said students come to learn and the faculty never lets them down.
Even in the midst of a recent tragedy, where a nursing student died and another was injured, the university came together to offer the resources the students needed to cope with the situation.
“I have made some incredibly bonding relationships here. I’m sure you all have. Because I did not have the needed support from my family, I create one wherever I go.”
Each and every one should feel proud of their accomplishments and give themselves a pat on the back, she said.
“Strive to be the very best that you can be and be determined to make a difference in the world, no matter how big or small it may be.”