The day Rita Steele learned she'd won a $70,000 TD Scholarship her phone was broken and wasn't getting emails all day. It wasn't until 1 AM the next morning that the VDSC's Vice President saw, while browsing through her day's emails, the words "TD" and "Congratulations" and realized she'd beat out almost 3,200 other applicants to win one of the biggest educational prizes available to first year undergrad students.
"It all started to sink in when I finally read the email. I had to hold my hand to my chest because my heart was beating so fast. I can't really describe that I felt a particular feeling about winning, as much as I was in absolute shock," said Steele. "I've been in shock for a month now and it still hasn't worn off."
Steele was honoured with the massive TD scholarship due to her work battling "student apathy." During her time at King George Secondary, she has sat on the Vancouver District Students' Council for the past four years and has been involved in helping organize the Vancouver Riot Youth Forum, workshops on anti-bullying and anti-racism and has been a longtime supporter of the recent Student Trustee motion passed earlier this year by the Vancouver Board of Education.
Part of the reason she says she got so involved in her school was that she loves the community fostered at King George.
"Being able to recognize all the people I pass by in hallways every day is a comfort I can't always get living in the city. I can proudly say that there are only two or three people in my grade who I don't know and there isn't a single person I would be uncomfortable starting up a conversation with," says Steele. "Everyone is very close and I think that it's unique that we have so many inter-grade connections."
She says that winning the scholarship has freed her imagination to consider countless post-secondary possibilities.
"At this point I have no idea what opportunities I'm going to take hold of, because there are just so many. Now that money's out of the picture, I don't have to think about myself or my own security. I have the opportunity to continue to act locally and to branch out globally," she said. "I can use this scholarship as a starting point to do something that matters."
King George principal Roberto Moro says it isn't a surprise that Steele took home the huge scholarship.
"The entire King George school community is extremely proud of Rita's accomplishments. Rita has demonstrated extensive commitment to volunteering, community spirit, leadership, mentorship and academic proficiency," he said. "She has accumulated an extensive list of initiatives, ranging from Vice-President of the Vancouver District Students' Council to implementing Hunger Bites, a student volunteer group organizing distribution of food to the hungry."
Moro says that in addition to her district work, she's also been critical to fostering friendship within the school, displaying goodwill towards others, giving tangible service to the school and acting as a real role model for individuals aspiring to excel in social responsibility.
In addition to the TD Award, Steele also won the Danielle Horwitz Social Justice Award, the first year it has been offered. Steele recieved the award at a presentation ceremony at the Mayor's office by Mayor Gregor Robertson on June 18.