International Women’s Day Winning Essay: Ordinary Faces in Extraordinary Places

International Women’s Day Winning Essay: Ordinary Faces
in Extraordinary Places

Gabrielle Spiess


March 8 was International Women’s Day. After Salt Spring Island resident Pat Preston approached the (Black Press) Driftwood newspaper for support in recognizing the day, an essay contest for high school students was spawned. With assistance from English teacher extraordinaire Peggy Gerlach-Williams, some 27 personal essays about important female role models were submitted and read by Preston, Driftwood editor Gail Sjuberg and writer Maureen Moore. The winning essay, by Grade 11 student Gabrielle Spiess, is published here.


It is funny how in a lifetime someone that you have barely known can impact your life so profoundly.

It could be through their legacy, their accomplishments, or just the way they lived their life.

They could influence you just by what they had said or simply by being themselves, an ordinary woman, going about her daily life.

Then again, an impression from one person, one woman, can come in the simplest of ways, even when you least expect it.

On Feb. 13, two years after I was born, my aunt, Carmen Breault, died in a car crash.

When she was young, a simple farm girl, she decided she wanted to be a nurse. That dream never changed.

In a similar way, when I was five years old, I decided that I wanted to be a doctor. I was like my aunt, my mother told me; I knew from early on what I wanted to do. My aunt and I are kindred spirits in this.

Now, I did not know her the way others had known her, but my mom tells me that we had a special connection because she adored me before I was born.

In the short time we had together, this bond grew; she became the backbone for my dreams; she became my role model.

If she had pursued her dream of becoming a nurse, who could stop me from pursuing my dream of becoming a doctor? Her courage gives me strength.

From inquiring about stories, I learnt that my aunt was a natural nurse, calm and fair, yet firm with her patients and colleagues.

She had confidence in her skills and confidence in what she believed in. One always felt reassured because of what she was doing even when, in some cases, she may have had no idea.

All of this confidence did not come easily to her, though; she had to work hard for her marks throughout school. Self-doubt plagued her as it does the rest of us.

The difference between my aunt and others, though, is that she overcame her fears and doubts and knew that she wanted to make a difference.

By advancing in her medical career, she achieved her dream and applied to the Doctors Without Borders program. In this program you travel to third world, war-torn or disaster-stricken countries to deliver medical aid and support. It was only a few months before her death that she received acceptance into this program.

She did not find a cure for cancer, nor make a colossal impact on the history of medicine, but my Aunt Carmen gave me a dream.

I want to follow in her footsteps and finish what she had started. Just like it was a dream of hers, Doctors Without Borders has become a dream of mine.

International Women’s Day celebrates the extraordinary ordinary women and how they influence our daily lives.

It could be a woman that you read about in a magazine or on the internet, someone that you have heard about or have seen on the television. Maybe it is the everyday women in our lives.

Women are the role models of our future generations and, like my Aunt Carmen, have the power to influence a life even long after they are gone.


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