Strong start, bigger finish

It’s hard to imagine two girls less alike than Judy Ou and Bethany Dickey. One’s quiet, almost contemplative. The other’s bubbly and outgoing. One has the luxury of a stay-at-home mom while the other’s parents work in the family’s restaurant from early morning to well past dusk. One knows exactly where she wants to go; the other believes a lot can change in the next few years. Dissimilar though they at first appear, they have much more in common than one might initially suppose. Which probably explains why they became fast friends after winning national awards through their involvement with Junior Achievement.

Junior Achievement is the largest youth education organisation in Canada. In 2011 it involved 216,000 high school students and 13,000 mentors in over 400 communities across the country. Its stated purpose is to support financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship in students in order to inspire and prepare them to succeed in a global economy. Students in the program work in small groups over a number of months to design, produce and sell a product. Though it’s mostly known for its school program, J.A. also sponsors a number of awards.

Bethany Dickey (of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia) was one of four winners of the Deloitte Inspiration Awards, given to students who have demonstrated thoughtful perspectives and the attributes required to succeed in the workforce. The award includes an all-expenses paid trip to the Canadian Business Hall of Fame Gala Dinner Induction Ceremony in Toronto and a $2,500 scholarship. Judy Ou, from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, won the Peter Mansbridge Positive Change Award, which is given to a student who promotes a vision of prosperity for the country and is committed to making positive change. It comes with the same trip to Toronto and a $10,000 scholarship.

Judy is a first generation Canadian whose parents immigrated to Canada from a small agrarian community in China. She’s a level three (grade 12) student who in June 2012 became the first member of her family ever to graduate from high school. She is planning to study biology when she attends Memorial University of Newfoundland in the fall and hopes to become a doctor in rural Newfoundland someday. That sounds like an unusual ambition for someone who became so involved with Junior Achievement, with its obvious emphasis on developing business skills. However, that eclectic approach is typical of Judy. She could never decide whether her favourite school subject was math or science and her interests outside academia are similarly wide-ranging.

“I don’t have a set thing like music or art or sports,” she says. “I like all of it.”

She started in J.A. in her first year of high school when representatives of the organisation came to her school to make a presentation and she’s been on the executive ever since. This year her group made Swollips (pillows spelled backwards) – pillows reminiscent of the popular Angry Birds but in bright colours for children. Under Judy’s guidance the team decided that for each pillow sold, one would be donated to the Janeway Children’s Hospital in St. John’s where Judy volunteers. Actions like that speak to her commitment to make a positive difference in the world.

Earlier this year when her phone rang at 10:30 at night Judy wasn’t sure if she should answer. For one thing she didn’t recognise the caller’s number. But when she picked it up she was shocked to hear a familiar voice on the other end of the line. Peter Mansbridge had called her in person to tell her how impressed he was by her application.

“I thought I was a finalist and I would have been happy just to get to the level of him reading it,” she says.

It wasn’t until they had been speaking for several minutes that she realized she was more than just a finalist – she had won the award. “I started crying and my parents were worried about who I was talking to and what he was saying,” she says, now able to laugh about it.

She was thrilled to be able to meet Mansbridge in person when he presented her with the award at the Gala in Toronto in May.

“In grade 10, I was all about doing everything.”

That’s the way Bethany describes how she first got involved with Junior Achievement and she doesn’t seem to have changed much since then. As well as the time she spends with J.A., which involves taking on the role of Student Ambassador to businesses and other students on top of the regular business project, the grade 12 student is involved in myriad of other activities. A cheerleader and the treasurer on her student council, Bethany is on the debating team, is a member of the Nova Scotia Secondary School Students Association, volunteers at the library and with the Sierra Club and competes in Reach for the Top. She also works at the Dartmouth Sportsplex and was recently named the Provincial Youth Volunteer of the Year.

When Bethany talks about doing everything she doesn’t stop at activities either.

“I told my parents I was going to pay my own way through university and they didn’t believe it, but now I’m close,” she says.

As well as the J.A. scholarship she has several smaller scholarships which should smooth her path towards that goal. She’s also in receipt of a Board of Governors’ Scholarship to Acadia University worth over $10,000 per year for four years. She’s planning to study business administration there in the fall.

Judy and Bethany, who are in constant contact through social media, are looking forward to getting together again this summer. Despite their differences they clearly share some important qualities.

Perhaps Judy best sums up the attraction and the part J.A. has played: “J.A. has been a big part of my life. You meet so many people and I’ve really expanded my network,” she explains. “With J.A. it’s easy to make friends because we all have something in common. We’re all leaders.”

Leaders whose career paths will be interesting to follow over the coming years.

Denise Flint
About Denise Flint

Denise Flint is an award-winning freelance writer based in the small town of St. Philips, just outside of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, whose work has appeared in local, regional and national newspapers and magazines as well as in online media. Although she writes a lot of business articles Denise refuses to specialise and enjoys delving into a wide variety of subjects. Her Atlantic Business Magazine article about Mel Woodward, “Hail To the Chief”, received the gold medal for best magazine profile at the 2009 Atlantic Journalism Awards.

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