The Loran Scholarship is one of the most prestigious awards in Canada, awarding a small group of outstanding Canadian students each year with $100,000 to pursue their undergraduate studies. We talked to one of the 2020 winners, Sumaya Soufi from Ross Sheppard High School in Edmonton, AB about Loran Scholarship advice for applying, social activism, and painting murals in Belize.
Tell us about yourself.
Hello! I’m Sumaya (she/her pronouns), a 17-year-old originally from Ottawa, but I’ve lived in Edmonton long enough to call it my home. I like to identify myself as an activist in anything I seek to improve, may that be colourism, gender equality, Islamaphobia, etc—my participation with my school’s Social Justice Club really motivates my goal for social awareness throughout the community. I often find myself participating in a lot of cultural events throughout the city—my family is from Somalia, so I enjoy spreading a bit of our culture with the community, while learning more about the different ones around me. Through my family, I’ve learned to love and (practically) live the game of basketball. It is a game that is loads of fun and brings all kinds of people together. In most of my free time, you’ll likely catch me with a stick of charcoal, some polymer, a brush, or simply even a pencil and a sketchbook. I spend a lot of my time crafting visual arts and poetry as my way of making statements to whoever chooses to be the audience—and it never fails to bring me to a place of ease.
What was your reaction when you found out that you were named a 2020 Loran Scholar?
There was this overwhelming sense of shock and relief (yes…polar emotions, but there was an odd blend of the two) —no words could fully explain it. It actually was my mom’s birthday when I got the news. My two brothers, my mom, and I were actually driving to my sister’s house for my mom’s surprise party when, ironically enough, I received the greatest surprise I could ask for. I remember my mom saying, once she heard the news, “This is the best birthday gift I could have received!” and we were all crying like babies. I loved it. I’ll never forget the feeling of that day…it was truly something special.
What is the most meaningful leadership experience you’ve had so far?
In May of last year, I was given the opportunity to partake in a two-week volunteer trip to Belize. The trip has been a tradition for the Executive Board members of the Interact Club to work with the two schools we sponsor and leave a lasting imprint on the community. During my time at the first school, Ocean Academy, I was generously offered an entire wall of their soon-to-be music room to paint a mural. What began as a project to simply paint a wall became so much more. I made sure that I utilized my limited time at the school by showing up a couple of hours early and staying back a while. What really maximized my interest in painting the mural was the simple act of sitting on a bucket, accompanied by the local youth and getting to really know the students of Ocean Academy. They told me about their aspirations, passions, favourite films and shows. Many of them had a love for fine arts, especially painting. Being a fine arts student myself, I had the ability to take the skills and techniques I had learned in the Art IB program and teach them to many students who were always eager to learn more. I remember an entire morning of showing them the art behind colour mixing and bringing depth to a painting. Unfortunately, my time in Caye Caulker had run short and I had about 20% left to paint. The group of art students were happy to tell me that they’d love to finish the mural and apply what they learned to the painting process. It’s truly beautiful how a few Edmontonion students were connected to the community of a small island through the creation of art: a legacy of their imprint on me and mine on them.
What motivates you to give back to your community?
I’ve always felt a huge sense of community through my upbringing. There was always a program to be involved in and a team behind that program that put in the hard work behind the scenes to make their vision a reality. Those individuals that put service above self are some of the most resilient and hardworking people I know, and I have always held so much respect for their contributions. When I first found out how easy it was to fill similar leadership roles within the community, I jumped at the chance. Some of the earlier positions, including Boys and Girls Club, opened me up to many like-minded individuals who quickly embraced me into their community that valued goals towards service. From those initial experiences, I was able to branch out to a lot of local and international initiatives—ie., Rotary International—which motivated youth (like myself) to start their own programs and services. To this day, it is the positive and like-minded support of this collective that motivates me to partake and initiate such programs—much like the ones I had the privilege to participate in during my youth.
What part of the Loran program are you most looking forward to?
The mentorship program that the Loran Award offers is undoubtedly one of the perks of the “long term investment” initiative of the scholarship. Each scholar is paired with a trusted Canadian leader for a four-year mentoring relationship, where we can be opened to a whole range of networking opportunities in a brand new city. In addition to that, mentors offer so much wisdom by way of their own experiences throughout their careers and lives that I am more than ready to become a sponge when listening to their stories. Mentorship programs are some of the most significant resources that one can have access to and an important source of encouragement when entering a completely new community.
What are you most looking forward to about university? What do you hope to get involved in there?
Where do I begin?! I think I would have to say that I’m most looking forward to being connected to so many more opportunities and branching out to a lot more people—naturally leading me to take more risks. I want to explore new ways I can seek discomfort and initiate conversations with a diverse crowd of strangers. This seems pretty ambitious, but I think the rewards being socially active in a university environment can be very helpful for new students. I definitely don’t want to limit myself in what I hope to get involved with just yet, but some interests include joining social activism groups, participating in podcasts open to students, perhaps working on collaborative visual arts and poetry pieces, and really anything that prompts me to grow in perspective and craft.
What advice do you have for other students applying for the Loran Award or any other scholarship?
I actually remember searching up this very question during my application process—everything really has come full circle. I would say it is very important to take your time when writing the essays and more in-depth portions of the application. It is truly a reflective process where you can learn a lot about yourself along the way. Taking this time really helped me find the most genuine answers that I felt reflected my character and personality beyond a single page, beyond an application.
Applications for the 2021 Loran Award are now open! The Loran Scholars Foundation looks for students who demonstrate strength of character, a commitment to service, and leadership potential. To learn more about the Loran Award and how you can apply for it visit https://loranscholar.ca/becoming-a-scholar/ and/or join one of their webinars.