You might think it’s hard to stay humble after winning a $100,000 scholarship, but for Kahnawa’kehró:non Gracie Diabo, her achievements are one piece of a bigger picture of Kanien’kehá:ka excellence.
“The opportunities that Indigenous students are getting, and are taking advantage of, I find so inspiring,” said Diabo, who is in her last semester at John Abbott College. “Seeing young people travelling to New Zealand for film, travelling to Egypt for the climate conference, becoming a Rhodes Scholar, being part of pro sports teams, I’m just so happy to be a part of that. We’re all striving for our dreams in different ways.”
This Wednesday, Diabo was selected to be a Loran Scholar, a prestigious opportunity offering a four-year program of mentorship, tuition waivers, and financial support, as well as leadership and networking opportunities.
Selected as one of 36 scholars out of 4,800 applicants following a rigorous application process that included a trip to Toronto for interviews, Diabo’s achievement is a testament to the years of commitment she has put into her studies, her extracurriculars, and her community.
“I’m really grateful for the financial aspect of it with the stipend and tuition waiver, but it’s so much more than that. I can’t express how grateful I am. I’m still processing it. It’s opened up so many opportunities and I’m just so excited for the future,” Diabo said.
She’s especially looking forward to spending her summers working in different sectors.
“I’ve spoken to scholars who’ve done their experiences in other provinces and internationally, so that really excites me,” she said. “I love travelling, and being able to meet people and gain experiences I would’ve otherwise never had is such a cool thing to me.”
Diabo has volunteered in Costa Rica and Peru renovating community spaces, and she volunteered at local flu clinics to do her part during the pandemic.
As well as previously serving as an executive and congress member in John Abbott’s student union, Diabo sat on numerous committees during her time at CEGEP, including the Reconcili-Action Committee, where students, staff, and faculty work to take actionable steps towards reconciliation. On top of that, she volunteers for the CEGEP’s green team promoting environmental sustainability, and she also founded the Indigenous Club last fall.
“It’s been going pretty steady since the fall semester. We have meetings every two weeks, and there’s about 10 or 12 of us,” Diabo said. “We’ve done cooking nights in the cafeteria where we attempt to cook fry bread. We had a bake sale on Truth and Reconciliation Day and donated the money to Resilience Montreal. Just yesterday we had a booth at multicultural week at my school, and we got to showcase our different cultures and had food available.”
Getting the club up and running has helped fill a gap in the school’s programming for Indigenous students.
“I wanted to create a community for Indigenous students at John Abbott that was kind of outside the academic setting. The Indigenous centre is run by staff and you can get tutoring there and stuff, but I really wanted to create something that was student-run,” Diabo said.
“It’s a way students can get involved, especially students coming from communities up north. They can integrate into school life here, make friends, and just have a chill, non-academic setting to meet people and do activities.”
Diabo’s extracurricular experience has often been about including others and creating spaces for fellow Indigenous students – something that Roxy Rae, community engagement and communications officer at the Loran Scholars Foundation, emphasized was a big focus when selecting the award recipients.
“The pursuits and accomplishments of the 36 newest recipients of the Loran Award are exemplary, but it is their values-driven approach to leading and dedication to uplifting their communities that distinguish them as Loran Scholars,” she said.
“We know that such promising young people have the power to change the future for the better – they just need a launchpad and opportunities to grow. This is precisely what we offer Loran Scholars: an enrichment program of leadership development and diverse learning experiences that equip them to create positive change over the course of their lifetimes.”
There’s one special person who always knew Diabo could do it – her mother, Michelle Mayo-Beauvais. Throughout Diabo’s childhood and adolescence, Mayo-Beauvais and her parents Rusty Phillips and Lynda Delisle made sure they attended every science fair, spelling bee, and sports event she participated in.
“Gracie has always been a great kid, always been so proud of her,” Mayo-Beauvais said. “It’s been a pleasure watching her grow up and become the amazing person she is today. As a mother, all you want is the best for your kids. Gracie has a great support system and will no doubt do great things in the future.”
Diabo’s looking forward to taking advantage of every opportunity the Loran Award brings her, though first she’s got an important decision to make: deciding which top university to attend. Right now, she’s choosing between McGill University and the University of British Columbia, for mechanical or software engineering. But for the time being, she’s reflecting on the achievements of not just herself, but the other incredible youth here in Kahnawake.
“We’re taking our rightful places and having our voices heard in these spaces, wherever our paths are going in society,” she said. “I think it’s so amazing what’s happening overall. It’s beyond just me.”