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Aiming high through hard work

Lorraine Graves   Jan-23-2019

Matthew McNair Grade 12 student Leon Picha's work ethic extends to an enriched academic program, outdoor education, a job, and working the sound board for Ms. Theresa Watt' drama production.

Photo by Chung Chow


For Leon Picha, a Grade 12 student at Matthew McNair Secondary, the family budget for his parent, his sister and him has been snug since he was little.

“There’s always been the real stretch for money. My dad has been the sole provider for the family of three—especially living in the Lower Mainland with the housing prices. It’s always been at least a bit of struggle for finances, getting food on the table.” He says paying the power bill has been a challenge some months.

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“It was something I got used to but…,” Picha says, leaving the sentence unfinished, but not his plans.

Energized instead of disheartened, his work ethic determines his future.

Starting in Grade 9, he got a job in a fast food restaurant in Ladner, working his way up to being one of the chain’s youngest managers. The family had moved to Ladner to cut the cost of housing.

Scholarships are part of the plan. Planning ahead, barely in Grade 12, Picha applied in the early autumn when his drama teacher at McNair, Ms. Watts, told the entire class about the $100,000 Loran Scholarship.5089 students applied from across Canada.

“I have my own money now. Definitely the McDonald’s money is pulling me through. Hopefully, with the scholarship, I will be able to pursue post-secondary education without a fear of finance so hopefully, that is all going to plan.”

The good news is that Picha and fellow McNair student, Cole Langer, have made the list of 88 Loran finalists who will journey to Toronto for national selections on Feb. 1 and 2. The Loran Award is based on evidence of character, commitment to service in the community and leadership potential. Nominated by their school, Picha and Langer have already been through a day of regional interviews each.

Langer too is involved in drama at McNair, in the acting program. He has also been involved in student council and been able to travel to different events related to student government. Langer has been a volunteer at South Arm Community Centre and is a soccer referee.

Picha speaks of his background: “I grew up in Richmond in the Ironwood area going to Kingswood Elementary. I chose McNair because I had a lot of good friends there and I wanted to be part of the mini school program there.” This choice meant a commute to and from Ladner every day.

McNair’s mini school program is, “designed to challenge academically motivated students with an enriched course of studies in a cohesive setting. The curriculum is compressed and enriched to develop in each student critical thinking skills, creativity, and independence.”

In addition to his studies in an enriched academic program, outdoor education that is integral to the Mini School, and his job, Picha is also the sound guy for McNair’s upcoming production of 'The Wizard of Oz'.

Of his trip to the finals of the Loran Award, Picha says, “I’ll miss some of the rehearsals, but the play starts last week of February.” He says his teacher who first introduced the idea of applying, Ms. Watts is supportive.

The main Lorain Award is $100,000 for four years of an undergraduate degree in Canada. The student must study outside their home province.

“With a scholarship, I be able to pursue post secondary education without a fear of finance so hopefully that is all going to plan. And living in residence, that’s an extra whole bunch of money,” he says.

Picha feels uneasy about taking out student loans: “I know that student debt is something that affects everyone. Even my teachers today are still paying off their student debts. But, today you can’t get many jobs without that degree. In some ways, I guess, you have to spend money to make money.”

Not one to put all his eggs in one basket, Picha is applying for other scholarships but he says none offer the financial security, mentoring, summer programs and networking opportunities of the Loran Award.

After National finals, from the 88, the Loran Scholars Foundation will grant 34 Loran Awards as well as the $100,000 scholarship. The Loran Award includes annual stipends, tuition waivers from a partner university, mentorship, summer internship funding, as well as annual retreats and forums.

If not selected as the Loran Scholar, both of the McNair students are eligible to receive a $5,000 finalist award.

The Loran Scholars Foundation says, “In a society that believes so strongly in tangible rankings and ratings, we colour outside the lines. To find the next generation of leaders for Canada, we look beyond the transcript and find the promise of character: integrity, courage, compassion, determination and a high level of personal autonomy.”

“If I do get the scholarship, I plan to attend either McGill or Western University to pursue a business degree, preferably in management. Also, I’m going to use connections I make in post-secondary school to guide me to career paths.”

But for now, the path ahead is clear, “I’m going to go for national selections at the end of the month. “I’m very excited because I love the city of Toronto and there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of snow,” Picha says with a smile.


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