The West Coast offers its graduates a wide and diverse array of scholarship opportunities but the most coveted is the $40,000 Pacific Rim Foundation Scholarship.
It is awarded each year to a student who personifies West Coast culture by exemplifying a giving and generous spirit and achieving well-rounded success.
This year’s award landed in the very deserving hands of Ucluelet’s Heather Morrison who was presented with her prize during June 28’s council meeting.
“Heather is involved. Heather is engaged. Heather is on her way,” said Pacific Rim Foundation president Gary Marks at the award’s announcement.
“Heather is clearly going to be a lifelong learner, the diverse interest in this young lady’s life and how she pursues them with an open and keen mind and dedicated and kind heart is inspiring.”
Marks said this year’s crop of scholarship applicants painted a solid picture for the future and suggested the West Coast should be immensely proud of the solid young adults it’s developing.
“Each applicant demonstrated that they seek to live a life of purpose and make a real difference in the world…Once again, we see the unconditional love and support that parents, teachers and community give to our children,” Marks said.
“These young adults are a reflection of us and their hard work and earnest efforts are a tribute to the best of all of us.”
He noted the foundation awards the scholarship to students who show ample willingness to get involved both locally and internationally.
“We celebrate their volunteerism and contributions to others and their determination to make a difference in a world faced with so many great and arduous challenges,” he said.
“Heather has demonstrated her character, reliability and sense of purpose and direction all in a mere 17-and-a-half years…Her extensive and longstanding commitments and involvement in various endeavours are commendable.”
After Marks handed her the award, Morrison touted her family and community as the source of her success.
“Looking at all of my older siblings and seeing all they’ve accomplished, it really reflects so well on the community and the school system and just shows what an amazing place Ucluelet is,” she said. “I have to thank the whole Coast for giving me such a wonderful place to grow up.”
After the presentation, Morrison told the Westerly she received the phone call telling her the scholarship was hers during dinner and her family got to see her reaction to the news.
“I was completely shocked. I was so excited. I was absolutely ecstatic,” she said.
She attributed the success that led to her receiving the scholarship to being surrounded by positive mentors from her community and the home she grew up in with parents Margaret and Myles Morrison and five older siblings.
“I’m really lucky because, growing up, I had all of these wonderful examples from my parents and my older siblings and other people in the community that showed me there’s so many things in the world you can go out and do and that you can become anything if you set your mind to it,” she said.
“From a really young age, I was motivated to work hard because I saw the benefit in putting everything into everything that you do. The harder you work, the more you get out of something and I had lots of motivation and lots of hindsight to realize that, if I work hard now, it’s going to come back and help me later; I was really lucky that way.”
The lifelong Ucluelet local has watched her community grow around her from the dirt road outside her house getting paved—she was stoked to be able to rollerskate—to a basketball court, skate park and community centre popping up across the street.
“In the time I’ve been growing up here I’ve watched the community grow and change,” she said.
“Ucluelet is a really amazing place and it keeps becoming an even better place for young families to raise their kids. I really reaped the benefits of that. I was able to grow up in a very caring nurturing environment because of this community.”
Armed with her $40,000 achievement, Morrison is excited to be headed to Calgary to attend Mount Royal University’s midwifery program but, she acknowledged, she will miss her hometown.
“I am absolutely going to miss Ucluelet. I’ve never lived anywhere else and I am definitely going to receive a bit of a shock moving from this tiny town to a city of over 1 million,” she said.
“I’m definitely very nervous about that and I’m going to miss the ocean so much. I’ve never had to fall asleep without the sound of it…It’s going to be a very new experience but I’m really excited. It’s going to give me a totally new perspective on life and, I think, that is something everyone should have the opportunity to get.”
She said she has wanted to be a midwife since she was in elementary school and never doubted her ability to become one.
“I’ve never once doubted that if I want this enough and that if I want to become a midwife, then that’s what I’ll do,” she said.
“I’m definitely nervous and I know it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be a lot of work but I’m confident that I can do it. I can get there, particularly with all the support that I have. Anything is possible, you just have to be able to work hard enough and you have to want it bad enough.”
She added the move to Alberta and the extensive traveling necessary to fulfill her midwifery program’s practicum requirements, is a financially daunting proposition that the $40,000 scholarship has softened.
“Knowing that I’m going to be able to afford that is a really big relief,” she said. “Being able to be financially stable and supported means I will be able to come home and visit my family.”
Morrison is the eighth Ucluelet Secondary School graduate to see her aspirations facilitated by the Pacific Rim Foundation Scholarship.
The scholarship’s benefactor, Rich ‘Dick’ Close, had remained anonymous up until he passed away earlier this year.
“Nine years ago, Dick set up a scholarship program with the expressed purpose of assisting a graduating USS student whose personal goals and public contributions were informed by a larger sense of community,” Marks said.
“He stipulated that it be an expression of support for the local school and that it would encourage families to stay in our communities knowing that this sort of opportunity was available on the West Coast. Dick’s leadership in this effort was a reflection of his generosity.”
Marks said Close was a firm believer in lifelong learning and a staunch supporter of local youth who wanted the scholarship to celebrate service to others.
“Central to the scholarship was the idea that the recipient would be a person who was invested in making the world a better place through a life with purpose,” Marks said.
He said he admired the fact that Close kept his contribution anonymous and never sought accolades or attention.
“I want to say thank you Dick for your generosity made more profound in how it will, and has, affected the lives of so many young people who stand on the threshold of their futures,” Marks said.
“Your gift allows them to dream and imagine greater possibilities and fulfilled lives. Your magnanimous gesture not only encourages the young people of our community to volunteer and be positively engaged, but it also motivates ordinary people to do good things.”
Marks added Close made arrangements before his death to assure the scholarship would remain in play for local students to enhance their lives as they strive towards it for years to come.