We all wonder where the time goes. It’s a very old complaint. So many grads have told us that some years after leaving Del, they’ve “blinked,” and suddenly they were 50 years old. Crossing this existential frontier may cause a number of reactions, among them fear, anxiety, self-examination, novel resolutions of energetic rebirth, new directions, even indifference or resignation. One solution may be to overload every minute with an abundance of activity, relentlessly. This may sound extreme, but it is the tactic of a recent energetic grad, Mara McNeil (2017). Spreading her wings, she soared into every opportunity Del offered. She won the Martino Award (2016 – 2017) for the best-combined average in chemistry, physics, and biology in both Grade 11 and 12. She was nominated by Del for a Schulich Award (the nomination given to a graduate pursuing a degree in the STEM field) and was one of the Waterloo math contest school champions in 2015 and 2016. Flush with academic success, a leader in sports at Del, she sparkled on the varsity soccer team competing at the OFSAA championships, the Del track and field team running long distance, and the Del cross-country team qualifying to race at OFSAA each year. A senior athletic letter was given for her commitment to a variety of sports from Grades 9 to 12, plus awards for leadership and teamwork. She volunteered for every community outreach activity supported by Del - a long list indeed including St. Francis’ Table, Meghan’s Walk, Del Open House Tours, and Habitat for Humanity. Before beginning her final year, she flew to Rome for Mr. Belissario’s Summer School for an English Credit and the sampling of the delights of gorgeous Italian geography and culture. Back for her senior year, she embraced the social life of the school, giving time to the student council, the social committee (as Head organizing games and student attractions) and finished as a top honour roll student. During her time at Del, she attained five AP credits (university credits) in biology, chemistry, calculus, physics and English literature. So, she had five university credits before she even got there, receiving the National AP Scholar Award for her high scores across the five exams. She also managed to probe the mysteries of biotechnology as part of her interdisciplinary studies. She finished at Del with a sparkling array of accomplishments in every corner of activity here, for sportsmanship, leadership, teamwork, and academic prowess.
The next phase of her career sees her alighting at Dalhousie University, after receiving an Entrance Award, to major in Medical Sciences - and it is still only 2017. After enjoying her first year, she returned home to volunteer at Toronto General Hospital in the Thoracic Surgery Clinic, both helping and learning. Back in Halifax for another year, active as ever as a student, athlete, and volunteer with a variety of services:
- Art for Everyone – providing art instruction and art supplies for marginalized groups in Halifax.
- We Are Young – supporting the charity which grants wishes for elders in the community.
- Soapbox Science – promoting women scientists and the research they do.
She received an award from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to conduct research in a virology lab studying the influenza virus and the possibilities inherent in various vaccine designs. An esoteric topic, here is a sample of the work. “The power of first impressions - can influenza imprinting during infancy inform vaccine designs.” Summer of 2020 found her back in the lab, thanks to the Faye Sobey Award, looking into viral genome sequencing and the novel coronavirus. Contributing to pertinent publications and presenting findings weekly at lab meetings.
Like Alexander the Great, ever seeking new territories to explore, she created a food blog to explore her passion for cooking, took up spinning as a new hobby and joined a rowing team to make the most of her time on the East Coast. A phenomenon, she squeezed in so much living in so short a space of time. Many are known for such talents as speed, ingenuity, creativity, diversity, but not so many for the ability to compress all together in a whirlwind of deliberate, planned sampling of all the delicacies in life’s great feast.
The Del Adventure of Mara McNeil
Her memories of Del, described here in her own words, renders our best hopes for our young adventurers. The recollections begin with... I started at Del in Grade 7, felt “intimidated” at first, but not for long. We see that she floated around our beautiful campus in the carefree times, enjoying what the days offered, the heart feels, and the mind reaches for. Her summary is idyllic and ideal at the same time. Enough. Let her speak.
I started at De La Salle in Grade 7 and can still remember how intimidating it was to be on campus that first day. I was a shy, quiet kid, and I had no idea of the influence that this new school would have in my life. Over the six years I attended Del, I was able to develop my academic, athletic and personal interests and graduated as a confident student, leader and friend.
I owe a lot of this growth to the people I met at the school. The faculty and student body are comprised of skilled athletes, public speakers, artists, musicians, scientists, mathematicians, classical thinkers, leaders, social advocates and more. I never had to look past my two best friends, Ally Hancock and Chloe Gonsalves, to see the privilege it was to attend Del and get to interact with such driven individuals. Both intelligent students, skilled athletes and kind people, I was inspired every day to be my best self. Four years after graduating, they remain my best friends, despite us all attending different universities, and continue to inspire me today.
As someone who thrives on challenges and competition, being surrounded by so many talented individuals raised the bar for my own activity at Del. I became involved in many different teams, councils and programs in order to remain a well-rounded individual and find balance during my time at Del. Some of these activities are truly unique to De La Salle – running cross country and scaling “Mount Trinity” each year at CISAA finals, scorekeeping at the Brother Arthur tournament, participating in Megan’s Walk to “hug the field”, exploring ancient ruins in Rome, participating in the last day of class water fight and gathering with the entire student body each morning for assembly. I was also heavily involved in organizing events at Del as head of the social committee and this included school fundraisers, the semi-formal and the senior prom. Events at Del were always a great reminder of the community of which we were all a part because they often spanned many grades and required the collaboration of many different people to be successful. I was lucky to be part of a graduating class that got really close over the years and who were as eager as I was to make the most of our final year, organizing and attending events together.
I cannot reminisce on my time at Del without speaking about the academic experience. An experience that was as unique as it was challenging: the infamous metabolism poster project in Biology, building rollercoasters in Physics, delivering speeches each year in English, philosophizing, debating and experimenting in other subjects. The advanced curriculum, while overwhelming at times, prepared me extremely well for the demands of university, and for that, I am most thankful.
To be a student at Del really is a unique experience. The people you meet, the academic challenges you face, and the extracurriculars in which you participate will allow you to graduate ready for whatever you choose to do next. You truly enter to learn and leave to serve.
This recounting by Mara describes a sweet integration of school and student, begging our admiration and gratitude for her continued loyalty to Del, to our hopes and endeavours. May Mara McNeil enjoy continued success.
- Winter 2020