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, Awa Hanane Diagne from Marianopolis College in Montreal, QC about tips on winning the Loran Scholarship, her educational nonprofit, and being yourself.
Tell us about yourself.
I am a 19-year-old Black-Canadian who has been living in Montreal, Quebec since 2004, although I was born in New York City. My parents are from West Africa: my mother is from Niger and my father is from Senegal. I have three older siblings: one sister and two brothers. I am currently studying Arts and Sciences in CÉGEP and hope to study bioethics along with neuroscience or psychological sciences during my undergraduate studies. I come from a long line of inspiring people who immensely value education. My maternal grandmother is one of the first women to receive a PhD in Niger and my father was a first-generation college student. Outside of school, I am passionate about many things including access to education, human rights, podcasting and really anything that has to do with art (literature, film, art history, etc). My interest in the arts has nurtured my passion for critical writing.
What was your reaction when you found out that you were named a 2020 Loran Scholar?
I honestly could not believe it. It still is somewhat unbelievable and it has been over a month since I found out. It does not happen every day to receive such a call. I am still in shock, especially with all the attention that came along with it.
What is the most meaningful leadership experience you’ve had so far?
I believe that every leadership experience, no matter how small, is meaningful. May it be being a class representative and organizing small group events in high school or leading my own nonprofit, every experience was an opportunity to better myself. I find meaning every time I am able to do something positive in someone else’s life.
What motivates you to give back to your community?
We currently live in a global society, making it important to care about the issues that are faced both locally and internationally. That is the reason why I founded The Woke Folk, a nonprofit organization that wishes to make education more accessible to young girls living in developing countries through the G747 program. As a girl who has had access to quality education throughout her life, I recognize the ways in which schooling helps one acquire the tools needed to become a constructive member of society. My education did not only nurture my interest in humanities and sciences, it also made me realize that I must reinvest my knowledge to help others in any way that I can. Not everyone has had the same experiences as I did. Indeed a young girl from Niger that we are funding, is currently unable to attend school due to threats from fundamentalist groups, leading to the closing of over 300 schools in the country. This particular instance shows the power of education because it is impossible for the Niger youth to stand up to extremist regimes without it. In essence, I only wish to give back everything I have been lucky to have because I do not take it for granted.
What part of the Loran program are you most looking forward to?
Simply put, everything. Finding out that I was named a 2020 Loran Scholar was amazing, but it was even better to find out that many of the fantastic people I met during the National Selections weekend were named as well. I look forward to experiencing this wild adventure along with the people I am happy to call my friends, to expand on our discussions, to become a part of the Loran family. I am also very excited to participate in the components of the program that will allow me to develop my leadership skills, such as the mentorship program and the summer internships. I will have so many meaningful interactions in the next four years, therefore it is safe to say that everything about the Loran program is quite exciting.
What are you most looking forward to about university? What do you hope to get involved in there?
I look forward to living in a new city, meeting new people and getting involved in new projects. I hope to continue the G747 project throughout my undergraduate studies because the pursuit of education is a long-term commitment. I also hope to join cultural organizations at my university because my racial and ethnic identity is at the core of who I am. I am currently the president of the Black Student Union at my college and I hope to continue fostering safe spaces for Black people in the future. Most importantly, I would like to get involved in interdisciplinary research and academic groups that are concerned with health policy and equity as I grew up with a brother who suffers from a rare disorder called Sickle Cell Anemia and recognize that there are injustices in the health sector in regards to some minority groups.
What advice do you have for other students applying for the Loran Award or any other scholarship?
The golden rule is to be yourself. I cannot say that it will ensure anything, but it certainly will not hurt you. No matter who you are, I am certain that you are passionate about something and you are enough just as you are. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and to talk about your passions in your applications and during your interviews. Mention the big and the small things about you because it makes you unique. An important part of my application was detailing the leadership positions I had occupied throughout the years, but I also enjoyed that I could include that my favourite book is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and the reasons why I shaved my head after years of having braids.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Either completing my studies in law school or in graduate school.
What’s one fun fact about yourself? Is there anything else you want to share?
I truly adore rap/hip hop music. In September, I was able to combine my interests in rap, sociology, and education when I was asked to be a guest lecturer in a class about W.E.B. Du Bois’ theory on double consciousness. I talked about the meaning of one of my favourite songs, King Kunta by Kendrick Lamar.
You will be working in three different sectors during the summers between school. What kind of summer experiences do you hope to pursue?
As mentioned earlier, I am very interested in bioethics and health policy, so I hope to spend at least one summer in these related fields. Nonetheless, I am open to new experiences in other sectors because I think it is important to have a wide breadth of knowledge and experience.
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.