When it comes to awards, the Governor-General’s medal is one of the highest academic honours a high school student can achieve. The bronze medal — silver and gold are given out at the post-secondary level — goes to the student with the highest academic grades.
But deciding who to nominate for the Governor-General’s medal is always a hard job for the principal and staff at a school, since there is often only a hairsbreadth separating the grades of the top students in any one year.
But that wasn’t the case with Connor Dietz, a 2010 Penticton Secondary grad.
“Every year it is very difficult to pick the top one, because this award is for the top marks in Grade 11 and 12. There were a lot of other good students, but to win by nearly a full percentage point is huge,” said Pen High principal Bill Bidlake, adding that usually the top two or three are separated by a tenth of a percentage point. “It’s very rare that you get a student like that. We’re very fortunate at Pen High to get some top students, but Connor was at the top of his class that year.”
Bidlake reads off a list of Dietz’ classes: Advanced placement physics, biology, chemistry, calculus, French, English, leadership, math; all with grade percentages in the high 90s. It’s a trait that he took with him to McGill as well, where he has just finished his freshman year, preparing to start a major in physiology and a minor in neuroscience in the fall.
“I finished the year in the top one per cent of the school; I had a 4.0 Grade Point Average,” said Dietz, as Bidlake chimed in: “That’s out of 4.0…”
Dietz hasn’t always been an academic achiever. He admits that in Grades 9 and 10 his marks in the classroom weren’t as important to him as the ones he was making on the sports fields.
“In Grades 9 and 10, I didn’t focus all of my energy towards school. I’ve always been really into sports. I’ve played hockey, lacrosse, volleyball, soccer, baseball, rugby,” said Dietz, adding that he enjoys participating in just about any sport. “In Grade 9 and 10, that was mostly my thing, but in Grade 11 and 12 I decided to focus more of that energy on school and it worked out.”
Dietz is still participating in sports, playing hockey and rock climbing in the Montreal area while attending McGill, along with tutoring math and volunteering with Moving Ahead program, visiting people with schizophrenia, making friends with them and helping them move ahead with their recovery process.
“It takes a lot of time management,” said Dietz, adding that his university work remains his top priority. “Hard work and time management.”
If that wasn’t enough, he’s also just returned from a trip to Cambodia — planned with a fellow McGill student — that was also inspired by his experiences at Pen High.
“Back in Grade 12 I did a trip to Ecuador (a school-sponsored trip to build a school) and I knew I wanted to do another trip like that,” said Dietz.
And along with travel, Dietz also focused this trip on charitable work, wanting to help at one of the many orphanages in the country.
“We were there for six weeks, and for three of those weeks, we were volunteering at an orphanage teaching English and math,” said Dietz. “The rest of the time we were travelling around the country — it was quite an experience.”