Silver Donald Cameron

The Advance of the Aylwards

April 26, 2009

“After the three of us got the scholarships, I think Mom and Dad adored going out to parties,”says Erin Aylward, “because they were always being asked, ‘So what did you guys do?’”

Good question. Geoff and Elaine Aylward live in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, a suburb of St. John’s. All three of their children Stephen, 21, Erin, 20,and Meaghan, 19 have won merit scholarships from the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. Erin and Meaghan both attend Memorial University. Stephen is at McGill University in Montreal. What accounts for such success?

“We’ve been really really blessed in our parents, and our grandparents,” says Erin. “Speaking for myself, I’ve been surrounded by unconditional love and support my whole life, and it’s been a major factor in my gaining confidence and taking initiatives.”

Meaghan agrees and adds a further ingredient.

“Between the three of us there was always a lot of support for all of our different projects,” she says. “If Stephen was having a bottle drive, for instance, then Erin and I would both go.”

All three feel fortunate to have done French immersion, and then the demanding International Baccalaureate program at Holy Heart of Mary High School. Newfoundland’s largest high school, Holy Heart is one of the few that offers English as a Second Language, which gives it an unusually diverse student body. The school is a power in sports as well as academics Erin is a rugby player and its chamber choir, which won an international gold medal in Vienna some years ago, regularly competes and tours overseas.

Holy Heart has a long-standing Social Justice Committee, which all three Aylwards chaired in their senior years. Steve Aylward was also devoted to the school’s Amnesty group, a commitment suggested by his grandfather, a retired judge.

“I remember watching the evening news one time with my grandfather at about 13 or 14, and I was just horrified by a shot of some tanks rolling into a city somewhere,” Steve says. “I asked my grandfather what could be done to prevent all the suffering in the world, and he suggested that I look into Amnesty International.

“So I became quite involved with Amnesty in St. John’s, and then later here in Montreal and in Germany, in Freiburg, where I was on exchange last year. I went to Mexico in 2007 as a youth delegate for Amnesty International Canada, and I’m going to to Ottawa in two weeks for a meeting of the international strategy committee.”

Meghan works with Oxfam and with the World Health Organization’s program to eradicate polio an effort headed by her uncle, who operates out of Switzerland. Erin almost accidentally took a course in Spanish at Holy Heart, and fell in love with the language. She has visited Argentina, Ecuador and Nicaragua, and is deeply involved with a campaign to inject more awareness of global issues into Newfoundland’s school system.

So what did Geoff and Elaine Aylward actually do?

Two things, say their children. First, unconditional love. Second, the Aylwards always portrayed post-secondary education. as “a stepping-stone to all kinds of opportunities,” as Elaine puts it. They had created Registered Educational Savings Plans for all the children, and Elaine spent a lot of time researching scholarships.

“I think that’s part of that unconditional support,” says Meaghan, “because looking for scholarships online is really daunting, and even when I looked at the Millennium application, I thought, ‘Uhh, I don’t know if I’m cut out for this.’ And having Mom there to say, ‘Nope, you are’ was a huge factor for us.”

Elaine is amused at the memory, but she says she was already looking farther ahead, “trying to line up as many resources as possible to fund not just the undergrad program, but whatever might lie beyond that in terms of a master’s degree or a doctoral program.”

Erin is doing political science and Spanish, Meaghan political science and psychology and Stephen is just finishing his degree in political science and philosophy. So what does lie beyond, for him?

“I’m going to study law at Oxford next year,” he says. “I was selected as the Rhodes Scholar for Newfoundland for 2008-2009.”

And no one, I’m sure, was surprised.

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