Grit: What My Triumph Award Means

  • Off Track Travel

  • “Nobody wants to show you the hours and hours of becoming. They'd rather show the highlight of what they've become.”
    ― Angela Duckworth

    Following the KonMari philosophy, I was cleaning out the documents in my apartment that I accumulated over the years when I came across an award that I once received:

    Triumph Award: This award celebrates the outstanding spirit and determination of a graduating student (or students) who has overcome great personal challenges in order to achieve academic success.

    Triumph Award Plaque

    grit The Triumph Award

    In reflection of those days gone by, I am trying to understand what this award means to me today.

    My Journey to Higher Education

    In high school I was an orphan and a refugee-immigrant, living with my sisters from check to check. I had also transferred in the middle of the semester to a prominently white school, and I missed my life in my previous neighborhood at Jane and Weston1, which was very different.

    One day at school, someone broke into my locker and stole my wallet. At the time, my small family were barely scraping by with the aid of social services, there was no way I could afford another one that month. On fourth period Chemistry, in the midst of class, I stood up and walked out. It took me two hours in freezing winter to walk home that afternoon.

    The next day at school, I was in front of my guidance counsellor. The room filled with adults, one by one. It was mortifying, because it was my first time ever reaching out to someone for help. I realize now though, that it was also necessary. I never sought help from anyone before, my pride had prevented me from asking for help. My guidance counsellor, Mr. Soloman2, enrolled me in the free bus ticket program. They made sure I didn't go hungry during lunchtime anymore. They made me apply for the Triumph Award. I learned an important lesson that day. Sometimes you need to share what you are going through with somebody. There are more important things than your pride.

    Upon hearing that I was selected for the award, they were nice enough to frame it and give it to me, all those years ago.

    grit My Triumph Award embody "Grit"

    Grit on My Wall

    My masters cost me 25K, my bachelors 40K, but somehow my Triumph Award feels like a bigger accomplishment for me now. Like the description of the scholarship states, I was able graduate despite extraordinary circumstances and even ended up going to university, at a time when such endeavor seemed impossible to achieve. Of all the framed feats that hang on my wall today, my Triumph Award, a small scholarship in the grand scheme of things that certainly came cheaper than my degrees, holds a special place in my heart. It representats my journey, and the grit it took to take me here.

    What Strength is to Me

    I don't measure strength by an amount of money or accolades. The amount of privilege someone had or has over me, or whether or not someone is deemed "successful" by society. I measure strength by the perseverance that took to keep moving forward, even in the face of adversity. That’s what I like about my Triumph award. I think it tells a better story of who I am than my resume.

    Somehow this small award manages to make me smile and beam with pride, every time I look up at it 🤩.

    UPDATE: I Met Emily Mills - the Founder of Triumph Award

    Hi, Did you by chance set up the Triumph Award at Northern Secondary School? -Jude

    With this random message I found Emily Mills, the founder of the Triumph Award on LinkedIn, and asked to meet her for coffee. Crazily enough, she said yes.

    Emily Mills is the Founder of How She Hustles - An international network that connects over 5000 diverse women through special events and social media. She is the winner of Women’s Executive Network's Top 100 Canada's Most Powerful Women Award, as well as 100 Accomplished Black Canadian (ABC) Women list. She also happened to have set up the Triumph Award in her final year in high school for future students.

    Needless to say, I told all my friends about her prior to meeting her and she was practically my best friend forever.

    Emily was like a Seonbae (선배)3 to me. She was not only a fellow alumni of the same secondary school but she is an incredibly motivated and down-to-earth person who just happened to be inspiring. She was gracious enough to give me an hour and we had the most amazing conversations about our uprbringings and the current landscape for people of minority in the world today.

    I can't speak for her but for me I took away 3 things from my meeting with her:

    1. Don't park your identity at the door when you are about to enter a room.
    2. You cannot course-correct if you don't take a step forward in life.
    3. I learned that I should keep meeting new people because I can learn a lot from potential mentors.

    It's amazing how cleaning your room can lead to so much revelations and opportunities. I look forward to my next adventure. Thank you Emily for meeting with me!

    grit My Seonbae and me

    1. Jane and Weston is a low-income neighborhood in Toronto with one of the lowest neighbourhood equity score, with common gun and knife violence. Drake once rapped: “How did I finesse all this shit from Jane and Weston?”

    2. Mr. Solomon continued to play an important role in me graduating from high school. I remember that for about a month after the incident he would show up randomly on my first period. Looking back, I think that was his discreet way of making sure I made it to school okay and that I was alright.

    3. A Korean word meaning an older mentor/alumni of the same path taken in life. It's a respectful term, there are no English equivalent.