Gen­er­a­tion EXIT

High school grad­u­ates across N.L. talk about why they’re leav­ing or why they’ll stay

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - FRONT PAGE - BY LOUIS POWER

If you could start again as a high school grad­u­ate — here, today, in this fis­cal cli­mate — what would you do with your life? Would you stay in New­found­land and Labrador, or would you be on the first plane, car or ferry out of here?

The Tele­gram asked 82 young peo­ple from all over the prov­ince about such things as their fi­nal se­mes­ter of high school comes to an end: their plans for the fu­ture, their feel­ings about home and their thoughts on the prov­ince’s fis­cal sit­u­a­tion.

And oh, the places they’ll go.

Read what grad­u­ates from Nain to St. John’s are say­ing in a four-page fea­ture in today’s Tele­gram.

There’s a young person in cen­tral New­found­land who feels that New­found­land and Labrador is a sink­ing ship.

That young person, who is count­ing down the fi­nal days of high school, will leave soon.

An­other grad in western New­found­land is leav­ing, too, but for a dif­fer­ent rea­son: you can’t study as­tro­bi­ol­ogy here.

A Grand Bank grad wants to stay in the prov­ince, but says there are no op­por­tu­ni­ties at home. They will prob­a­bly end up mov­ing to an­other com­mu­nity.

A grad­u­ate in Labrador plans to leave town to com­plete post­sec­ondary education, but is set on re­turn­ing. “I will be bet­ter equipped to make pos­i­tive changes in my com­mu­nity. I know I can make a dif­fer­ence, and hav­ing a higher education is one of the first steps I need to take in or­der to achieve that,” the grad­u­ate wrote in an anony­mous sur­vey dis­trib­uted by The Tele­gram.

Eighty high school grads from around the prov­ince com­pleted our on­line sur­vey, of­fer­ing their thoughts on the prov­ince’s fis­cal sit­u­a­tion, their fu­ture plans and their feel­ings about home.

Of those, about two-thirds (64.3 per cent) have long-term plans — be­yond post-sec­ondary education — to live out­side the prov­ince. Only 13 per cent want to set­tle down in their home­town; 15 per cent want to move some­where else in the prov­ince; and nine per cent aren’t sure yet, or pro­vided an al­ter­na­tive an­swer (one says, “I plan to stay in Canada but I will go wher­ever I can get a job”).

The high­est per­cent­age of re­spon­dents who in­tend to leave in the long term were from eastern New­found­land, with 75 per cent plan­ning to pack their bags.

Oth­ers in the prov­ince are lean­ing to­wards leav­ing, but not in as high a num­ber; many plan to stay in the prov­ince, but move to an­other com­mu­nity. Grad­u­ates in Labrador and western New­found­land are pretty evenly split be­tween stay­ing and go­ing, and none of the stu­dents from cen­tral New­found­land who an­swered the poll are com­mit­ted to stay­ing in their com­mu­nity.

Rea­sons for leav­ing

Par­tic­i­pants from all cor­ners of the prov­ince, writ­ing about why they want to stay or go, seem to be on the same page, or at least the same chap­ter; words used over and over again in­cluded “op­por­tu­nity,” “work” and “iso­la­tion.”

There are other rea­sons peo­ple want to leave, too, such as a lack of di­ver­sity, in­ad­e­quate men­tal health care, small-town gos­sip, lack of sup­port for the arts, and an ab­sence of faith in the prov­ince’s fu­ture. And, as with other gen­er­a­tions, there is much grum­bling about weather and pot­holes.

Some re­sponses are pretty grim.

“The fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion, no mat­ter how much the gov­ern­ment would like us to think is get­ting bet­ter, is not, as bud­get cuts and such aren’t go­ing to get us out of a hole if we just keep on dig­ging. There is no rea­son to stay on a sink­ing ship if there is a life-raft nearby,” one grad, from cen­tral New­found­land, writes.

“The job and hous­ing mar­kets are poor here, the politi­cians don’t un­der­stand how to man­age our bud­get, which leads to vi­tal things like li­braries los­ing their fund­ing and a book tax be­ing in­sti­tuted (even when lit­er­acy is way down in the prov­ince); we have no re­li­able pub­lic trans­port, our in­fra­struc­ture is lit­er­ally crum­bling around us, we rely on ev­ery­thing to be shipped in to us, which re­sults in a less than favourable diet, there is very lit­tle to do that doesn’t in­volve drink­ing, etc.,” writes a grad from eastern New­found­land.

Sev­eral say they don’t want to leave their fam­i­lies be­hind, but feel they may have to leave in or­der to find mean­ing­ful work; a few plan to leave be­cause they don’t have many rel­a­tives in the prov­ince.

Oth­ers aren’t so much anx­ious to get out of New­found­land and Labrador as they are ex­cited about the prospect of trav­el­ling and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing new things. It’s not al­ways out of a lack of love; one grad cites the fear of miss­ing out.

On the fis­cal cli­mate

What­ever their rea­sons, the prov­ince’s fis­cal reality is not lost on young peo­ple. While there are a few sur­vey re­spon­dents who are un­fa­mil­iar with New­found­land and Labrador’s fi­nan­cial woes, or who don’t think it af­fects their com­mu­ni­ties much, oth­ers are painfully aware.

The Tele­gram asked poll re­spon­dents to in­di­cate, on a scale from 1-10, how stressed it makes them feel, and the av­er­age was 7.

They were asked how they feel the fis­cal sit­u­a­tion af­fects their com­mu­nity.

“We see our com­mu­nity los­ing a large por­tion of its ser­vices as time pro­gresses, fund­ing is be­ing cut left, right and cen­tre and it’s dif­fi­cult for us to keep up,” says a grad from Labrador.

A grad on the west coast says: “It means both my par­ents prob­a­bly won’t have jobs next year.”

A grad from cen­tral is con­cerned about in­fra­struc­ture — and grand­moth­ers: “Pot­holes. Pot­holes deep enough your poor grand mud­der would drown in them. And they aren’t be­ing fixed due to lack of funds.”

An an­swer from eastern New­found­land is sim­ple and dev­as­tat­ing: “Ma­jorly, stress is ru­in­ing lives.”

Op­ti­mism

Most of the grads, if not op­ti­mistic about the prov­ince’s fu­ture, seem pretty pos­i­tive about their own paths. Asked to rate, on a scale of 1-10, how op­ti­mistic they were about their fu­tures, the an­swers av­er­aged 7.29.

All but three say they plan to go to post-sec­ondary school, and two of those three say they aren’t sure yet what they’ll do. Many are al­ready en­vi­sion­ing ca­reers in var­i­ous fields, such as the arts, engi­neer­ing, and as­tro­bi­ol­ogy.

More than half — 58.5 per cent — say they will go to post­sec­ondary school in this prov­ince; low tu­ition is cited as an in­cen­tive to study at Memo­rial Univer­sity of New­found­land.

Then most of them will leave.

What irks them

What else are they walk­ing away from? Grads wrote about the things they dis­like about their com­mu­ni­ties, and many were on the same page. Iso­la­tion, weather, the cost of liv­ing, lack of pub­lic transportation and a lack of things to do top the list.

A grad in eastern New­found­land says there is no progress in their town, or any com­mu­nity they’ve vis­ited.

“Seems like ev­ery­thing is just wait­ing to die with age, no great job op­por­tu­ni­ties, you have to leave to do most things in life, not much op­por­tu­nity here to be as suc­cess­ful as you want to,” they write.

Sev­eral re­spon­dents feel pushed away by so­cial is­sues.

“They say that New­found­land is one of the nicest places in the world, but in St. John’s, peo­ple are just mean. They’re an­gry, stub­born, un­grate­ful, and just plain mean,” one an­swer reads.

A grad in western New­found­land feels that young peo­ple on the Avalon have an ad­van­tage over peers in other parts of the prov­ince.

“The lack of op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­cel in ar­eas such as sports, mu­sic and aca­dem­i­cally. I have played on pro­vin­cial teams in four sports dis­ci­plines, and have al­ways been forced to travel to St. John’s to con­tinue to play at a high level.”

What they love

But there’s a lot th­ese young peo­ple will miss if they move away. The Tele­gram asked them what they like about their com­mu­ni­ties, and got some in­spired an­swers.

“The small-town feel, it’s safe and every­where you go in the com­mu­nity, you know al­most ev­ery­one there! N.L. is also in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful. I greatly value be­ing next to the ocean in my town,” writes a grad from eastern New­found­land.

“We just live in the back­woods, and it can be very re­lax­ing. You can get any­where on ATV or snow­mo­bile, ev­ery­one knows ev­ery­one, a peace­ful walk in the woods is in your back­yard, it is very great for the out­doors­man,” writes a grad in cen­tral.

A grad in western New­found­land with an ob­vi­ous sense of hu­mour writes: “The fact that I can stum­ble into traf­fic at any time, but the cars move so slow I can dodge them, like Neo in ‘The Ma­trix.’”

In Labrador, an­swers show the grads’ af­fec­tion for the peo­ple, and the land­scape.

“The things I like about liv­ing in my com­mu­nity is that it had a small pop­u­la­tion and you know ev­ery­one! Ev­ery­one gives peo­ple a helping hand if needed. Also there are so many out­side ac­tiv­i­ties like, Ski-doo­ing, go­ing to cabin, four-wheeler, go­ing out in boat, which just makes it feel so free cause you can leave your door and to do th­ese things, which is very con­ve­nient,” one grad says.

Many an­swers from ev­ery re­gion — writ­ten by peo­ple who plan to stay and from those who plan to leave — show a lot of love for the places they call home.

“I love my com­mu­nity be­cause I have lived here my whole life. It’s been the only com­mu­nity I’ve known,” says a grad from the west coast.

“I have loved grow­ing up there and love the com­mu­nity. I would live there and raise my kids there, but it’s pretty small and there isn’t a whole lot to do.”

Eighty-two is a frac­tion of the num­ber of stu­dents grad­u­at­ing from high school in New­found­land and Labrador this year, and this ex­er­cise only re­flects those peo­ple who took part. But when The Tele­gram in­ter­viewed stu­dents from around the prov­ince — from Nain, Labrador City, Conche, Cor­ner Brook, Isle aux Morts, Nor­ris Arm North, Lit­tle Bay (Marys­town) and St. John’s — and told them the re­sults, sev­eral felt the re­sults rep­re­sented their grad­u­at­ing classes pretty well. Oth­ers said they fig­ure about half their classes would leave.

School is out Thurs­day for stu­dents in both the English and French school dis­tricts.

The Tele­gram wishes all grad­u­ates, what­ever their plans, a happy and pros­per­ous fu­ture.

“We see our com­mu­nity los­ing a large por­tion of its ser­vices as time pro­gresses, fund­ing is be­ing cut left, right and cen­tre and it’s dif­fi­cult for us to keep up.” -Anony­mous, Labrador

“Seems like ev­ery­thing is just wait­ing to die with age, no great job op­por­tu­ni­ties, you have to leave to do most things in life, not much op­por­tu­nity here to be as suc­cess­ful as you want to.” Anony­mous, eastern New­found­land

“The lack of op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­cel in ar­eas such as sports, mu­sic and aca­dem­i­cally. I have played on pro­vin­cial teams in four sports dis­ci­plines, and have al­ways been forced to travel to St. John’s to con­tinue to play at a high level.” Anony­mous, western New­found­land

“Pot­holes. Pot­holes deep enough your poor grand mud­der would drown in them. And they aren’t be­ing fixed due to lack of funds.” Anony­mous, cen­tral New­found­land

DE­POSIT PHOTO

DE­POSIT PHOTO

High school grads across New­found­land and Labrador are ex­cited to step out into a new fu­ture. For some that fu­ture might lead them to new com­mu­ni­ties in New­found­land and Labrador. Oth­ers are de­vel­op­ing their exit strat­egy.

DE­POSIT PHOTO

Some grad­u­at­ing stu­dents will have to go out­side the prov­ince to take on the stud­ies they’ve se­lected for post-sec­ondary education. More than half of the grads who talked to The Tele­gram say their long-term plans are to live and work out­side the prov­ince.

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