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This is the sixteenth in our series of stories celebrating the outstanding accomplishments of youth in our community. These inspirational young adults are enriching our lives with their passion and commitment to the betterment of society.

Robert MacDonald

celeb youth 5During the 2012/2013 academic year, Claremont High School established an innovative new educational program through its Institute for Global Solutions. As noted on the Saanich School District (SD63) website, the Institute provides a “project-based curriculum [that is] designed to equip students with tools and experiences to address the unprecedented environmental and humanitarian challenges of the 21st century –from poverty reduction to climate change and urbanization to sustainable energy.” Now in its 3rd year, the Institute for Global Solutions draws students from across the Capital Regional District to Claremont. Robert MacDonald is one of those students.

In October of last year, I gave a presentation to one of the Global Studies classes at Claremont. As I was leaving the class I bumped into Robert, a confident and articulate young man who teacher Mark Neufeld remarked, “you have got to meet”. Mark proceeded to describe how Robert was recently elected president of the Claremont student council but subsequently declined citing another candidate as a better choice. Needless to say, my curiosity was piqued. And so, Judy Fainstein and I decided to interview Robert to learn more about this remarkable young man.

celeb youth 4Now in his Grade 12 year, Robert grew up in Victoria and attended Cordova Bay Elementary and Royal Oak Middle School.  In addition to excelling academically, Robert is involved in a diverse array of other activities including, but not limited to, musical theatre, the Pursuit of Excellence Program (which he terms “the club for keeners” and is linked to the Duke of Edinburgh award program) and student government.

As alluded to above, Robert had a fascinating foray into student government. He joined three other students in seeking the presidency of school council as he believed that “there were a number of issues at school [that] were not being addressed.” One was the lack of change room space for the Claremont Sports Institute of Excellence and their highly regarded lacrosse program. Another involved his concern over declining school spirit; one of his ideas was to revamp the school house system.

During their election campaign, candidates were required to make separate speeches to students in each of grades nine through twelve. Robert recognized that in order to win, he needed to offer a unique speech — one that differentiated himself from his competitors — that was catered to each grade. He chose to use humour in his delivery, admitting that some of his jokes stirred up a fair amount of controversy. After his second speech, Robert had what he described as a “crisis of conscience”. He realized that he’d crafted his speeches with what he thought students wanted to hear, not what he wanted to say. After some reflection, he took a different approach in his speeches to the Grades 11 and 12 classes. This time he focused on praising the positions and views of all candidates and went so far as to suggest that students explore their merits as well prior to voting. But in the end, Robert won the election because of his exceptionally strong performance in the Grades 9 and 10 polls. Robert felt that he had won for all the wrong reasons and that the student in second place “deserved it more than me”. He worked hard to eventually convince her to accept the role and Robert is now content serving as her Vice President.

celeb youth 6Claremont’s Institute for Global Solutions is a perfect fit for Robert. He’s described by Mark Neufeld, a founding teacher of the program, as a “very clever student that challenges himself and his teachers. He questions the world around him and seeks solutions. He has great potential to be a major contributor to our transition to a clean energy future”. Robert says he is inspired by Mr. Neufeld and adds, “I think like him and see the need for big changes in this world”.

Robert loves acting and musical theatre and has performed in school productions of Legally Blond, 42nd Street and most recently as 2nd male lead in Grease playing “Kenickie”, where he had a solo performance of the song “Greased Lightning”. He’s also extremely active in sports, including snowboarding, cross country, race walking (finishing 10th in the Provincial Championships last year) and this year he has started curling on the school team. He describes himself as very social in nature and enjoys spending time with friends.

celeb youth 2Ever since he was young, Robert’s family has acted as a host for a diversity of international students. These incredibly positive experiences inspired him to become involved in the school’s International Student Peer Advisors Club; last year he was its president. Club members assist international students academically and coordinate events and gatherings to help them fully integrate into the school community, tasks that Robert finds particularly rewarding.

Outside of school, Robert belongs to the Vancouver Island Pointing Dog Club. His family raises Brittany Spaniels and he enjoys the occasional outing to go bird hunting. He lists his hobbies as running, snowboarding and ice skating (his father used to perform in the Ice Capades and is still active in the local skating community). Robert somehow manages to also hold down a part time job as a Sales Associate at Peppers Grocery.

Robert has his sights set on becoming a politician sometime in the future because “I want to change the system”. And Robert has a plan to get there. To commence he will obtain an undergraduate degree in political science and economics. Then he will study for a degree in law so that he can start his own corporate law practice “with a cool lobby”. He has already identified intellectual property law as a primary area of interest. He wants to start off in Toronto, work on Bay Street, subsequently practice in New York and earn a good salary. Yet Robert wants to eventually return to Victoria. He is a man with a plan. When asked why he wants to become a lawyer Robert immediately quipped “I gotta get into law school as I want five kids”.

celeb youth 3During the summer of 2014, Robert attended a 3-week youth summer program at the University of Toronto, where he learned about corporate law, civil litigation and criminal law. He really enjoyed staying in student residence at university and having the opportunity to visit the Ontario Provincial Court. He told us “Toronto opened my eyes to possibilities for the future”.

In his somewhat casual manner and with his self-deprecating, yet infectious, sense of humour, Robert told us confidently that his life goal was to “make the news” and “take the panhandle back for BC”. Not sure what he meant by the latter, Robert explained that the Alaskan Panhandle was historically part of Canada (and has been the subject of dispute since 1821).

Robert impressed us as an honest, forthright and ambitious young man. He says his friends would describe him as eccentric and non-conformist. But we would describe him as passionate, innovative, creative and a future leader — someone with a sense of direction and purpose. We’re confident that Robert will continue to challenge societal norms and endeavour to break down barriers to change. He’ll make an outstanding ambassador for Claremont’s Institute for Global Solutions and mark our words, we’ll be reading about him on the front page of the Globe and Mail in the not too distant future.

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