Yara El-Soueidi: Lessons from high school and my mom

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On Sunday morning, while most of the city was celebrating St-Patrick’s Day (one of my favourite holidays), I picked up dessert for my mother. My mother’s birthday and St-Patrick’s Day coincide, so I miss the parade nearly every year, to the great disappointment of my Irish friends (hello Hannah!). But this isn’t about how I missed the green beer and Irish folk songs while being a bit tipsy and very happy.

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No, this is about my mother.

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I’ve mentioned her in another column about my family, but I rarely mention her in my writing. That’s because we are a private family, and I am the most public-facing member. My parents — who have sacrificed a lot for me and my siblings — would prefer I leave them out of my columns, and I respect that as a general rule. 

A few weeks ago, a column about my high school was published in Le Devoir. It made waves. I tried to wrap my head around what I was reading. Everything in the column seemed messy to me. The impression it left was of students being extremely impolite and teachers resenting their own classrooms. For me, as an alumnus, it wasn’t fun to read.

I was disappointed not just for myself, but primarily for my parents. I know how much my mom and dad wanted us to attend this school to get a good education.

But I’ll be honest: I hated my high school years. Being a teenager stuck between two cultures isn’t easy. Mind you, we made the best of it, and I still have fond memories. I remember teachers trying their best to make everyone feel comfortable. I remember French classes where we students — whether “Québécois kids” or children of immigrants — debated with teachers. Isn’t that part of a healthy education?

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Recently, I had the chance to talk with a principal from that school. They proudly told me they saw my success as a young writer as a product of the education I was provided. This made me think a lot. Certainly the school had something to do with who I am today. But that’s just part of the story.

The truth is I was a rebellious teenager. I hated any form of archaic establishment. I wanted to fight for what was right when many things felt wrong. I still do. As for my love of words, culture and Montreal, much of that comes from my mom. 

This year, she turned 55. She’s the reason why I’m the person I am today. I wish I could give her back everything she gave me.

When I was a child, she’d answer all my questions, and never seemed annoyed by my deep curiosity of all things. She’d bring me everywhere. She’d play with me. Above all, she was present every day of my life.

She brought us up to accept differences and embrace what we could learn from anyone who wasn’t like us. She’d take the time to explain the importance of being open to others. She told my sister and me that we could achieve anything, as girls and as children of immigrants.

I’m lucky to have grown up with her as a mom, even if I know I was a difficult teenager. I struggled with anxiety and depression. I was confrontational. She never backed down.

Whatever a principal or teacher might think, at my old school or at any other, I believe students are above all the products of the education their parents gave them. My mom gave me a love of culture — both the culture of my family roots, and the culture I grew up in — for the whole world to see.

I’m as Québécoise as my next-door neighbour. I know that because my mom told me so with pride in her eyes.

Bonne fête, Mama.

Yara El-Soueidi is a writer and culture columnist based in Montreal. 

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