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The Importance of Role Models

Blog | June 19, 2023 | Share on:
"How does my future look?"

Some people have specific hobbies: some like to read; others love to engage in the arts; I have always loved learning and grasped at every opportunity to wrap my head around new skills and concepts. 

My jobs, hobbies, and passions have always included elements of three favourite school subjects - physical education, science and language arts. I loved the challenge of learning within each subject and the ease with which I could comprehend each of them and my post-secondary degrees- science, recreation/business, and education, also align and echo my favourites. 

Growing up in the ’70s and ‘80s, I was never sure what life could look like. How would my future look? What was I supposed to do after school? Growing up in a small town before the Internet, my access to role models seemed limited to where I was and local tv access. I realized later on in life that the lack of role models deeply impacted my early years.

Tammy Webster 8 Year Old Child
8-year-old Tammy Webster
High School Graduation
High School Graduation 
Walking Two Worlds

With the current prevalence of social media, instantaneous access to information and ability to ‘see’ role models can have profound impacts. Youth are able to connect with others around the world with a few keystrokes. Coming from Gen X, witnessing the growth of technology, innovation and its uses is incredible. 

As someone who is white-coded, there were times in my childhood and youth, when I felt that no one resonated. Across the TV screens that I was permitted to watch were shows like Diff’rent Strokes, Facts of Life, The Six Million Dollar Man and Happy Days. But knowing my cultural foundation, I was sometimes at odds with how I weaved all the different pieces of myself into a future person. The absence of a well-known or public First Nations role model never really discouraged me from looking within or recognizing and appreciating the richness of culture and heritage that flowed within my blood, but there was no obvious path to follow.

Throughout different stages of my childhood, I have been influenced by people around me: teachers at school, family members, and so many others. My mother worked three jobs and never let that get in the way of raising her children - not one permission form was ever overdue; my teachers would provide new exciting opportunities for me to flex my knowledge (whether it was enrolling me in spelling competitions, science fairs, or sports teams). I was surrounded by people who had a hand in forming the person I am today. I just didn’t recognize it at the time.

New Ways of Thinking

Looking back now with my eyes that are surrounded by wrinkles and a few decades of education under my belt, I now see that I’ve always had “role models.” They were not formal role models who looked like me or had the same lived experiences. Still, they were people around me who guided, taught, and connected with me – those who amplified my self-worth and saw opportunities beyond the accepted, and expected.

Through my decades of formal and informal educational opportunities, sports, and various jobs, I built my confidence, competence, understanding and self-esteem. I learned that role models are one piece of the larger picture of my spirit as a First Nations female. My touchstone for many of my life experiences was education. 

Education in formal, western institutions or informal settings of sports/athletics. Education through stories of friends, families and knowledge keepers. Education from making mistakes or successful moments. Education surrounds us all. Being a role model or inspiration doesn’t necessarily mean being put on a pedestal but can also be a way for someone to protect, build and nourish a person’s sense of spirit/self through example. You are a beacon for a person’s lifelong journey and destination.

Students come and go. All ages and all experiences. You don’t need a formal education to be a beacon. But rather use the warmth, comfort and guidance of the light to illuminate the way of our future generations

- Tammy Webster, Director, Equity

Class of '94 at University of Waterloo