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Sentinel Secondary grad wins prestigious $100,000 Loran award

West Vancouver’s Olivia Mendes is one of 36 students who will receive the award, which helps cover post-secondary tuition, living expenses and interships
Sentinel student Olivia Mendes, graduating from Grade 12 this month, is the recipient of a prestigious Loran award. | Paul McGrath / North Shore News

Olivia Mendes was out for lunch with her dad, getting the, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” pep talk, when she got the call.

Mendes, who is graduating from West Vancouver’s Sentinel Secondary, learned she will become one of a select group of 36 Loran scholars this year, chosen from among thousands of applicants from across Canada.

The financial boost from the award is large – winners receive up to $100,000 towards tuition, living expenses and summer internship experiences over a four-year period of study.

But Loran awards aren’t just about the money.

They are also set up to offer leadership training, one-on-one mentorship during post-secondary education and invaluable connections through other Loran scholars and alumni.

Marks do count in Loran awards (students are expected to maintain a B+ average while at university), but what the Loran Scholars Foundation is really looking for are leadership qualities and dedication to community service.

For Mendes, who grew up in West Vancouver and attended Ecole Pauline Johnston and Sentinel Secondary as a French Immersion student, those attributes seem to come naturally.

While at Sentinel, Mendes started a Truth and Reconciliation committee and revitalized the school’s LGBTQ student support group. She’s also volunteered with children, and trained in ministry at her church, West Vancouver United.

Coming from political family, Mendes has also dipped her toe into that pool, working as a media and campaign manager for one of the West Vancouver council candidates in the last civic election. Her candidate didn’t win, but “I had an amazing experience on the campaign trail,” she said.

When award season came around, Mendes said it was her older brother – who had been a Loran semi-finalist himself – who encouraged her to apply.

“He really encouraged me, really pushed me towards it, even though I didn’t think I was going to get it or really even make it to the first interview stage,” she said. “He was super encouraging.”

The application process itself – which started in October and continued to the spring – isn’t for shrinking violets.

It involved writing several short essays about her community work, how she faced challenges and resolved group conflict. For one of the “five fun facts” about herself, Mendes wrote about her love of the Jimi Hendrix music that she enjoys with her dad. After that there was a "robo-interview" on an interactive website, followed up by a six-hour day of zoom interviews. The final selection process involved finalists being flown to Toronto for in-person interviews, where they also got to meet the other award hopefuls.

Despite the pressure, Mendes said she was happy to be in such a supportive environment.

“It never actually felt like a competition,” she said. “It felt like summer camp.”

“Every single person I met was 100 per cent deserving of that award.”

This fall, Mendes will head to McGill University, where she’ll start on a general arts degree.

Areas of interest include political science, philosophy, religious studies and psychology, among others. Mendes said she doesn’t know yet what she wants to do in the future, but has her sights set on NGO or charity work or higher education.

Before hitting the books, however, Mendes will join the other Loran scholars for an orientation camping trip in Algonquin Park in August, along with some leadership training.

“I’m excited for everything except the mosquitoes,” she said.