Iqaluit student wins $100,000 Loran Award
Akutaq Williamson Bathory recognized for speedskating, mental health advocacy
When Iqaluit high school student Akutaq Williamson Bathory heads to the University of Calgary in September, she’ll have a little extra change in her pocket to go toward her studies.
That is, an extra $100,000 in change.
Williamson Bathory is one of 36 youths from across Canada who have been named Loran Scholars this year.
The award, given by the Loran Scholars Foundation, recognizes young people who have shown strength of character and leadership through community engagement, commitment to service, the courage to make difficult decisions and determination to work toward long-term goals, foundation spokesperson Roxy Rae said.
The 4,800 scholarship applications were whittled down to 90 finalists who were all interviewed over a weekend in Toronto in February before the 36 winners were chosen.
“I was just so shocked because I wasn’t expecting it… I had never thought anything like this would happen within my lifetime,” Williamson Bathory said as she took a lunch break at school.
“I just had no words to describe how I was feeling.”
The Grade 12 student at Inuksuk High School was recognized for her accomplishments in short-track speedskating and her mental health advocacy.
At her high school, Williamson Bathory established a peer group alongside her best friend Kimberly Canlan to create an inclusive environment focused on self-care, suicide prevention and youth mental wellness. It also aimed to give students a space to open up to other people their own age.
Recently, the group has been meeting to journal together and find ways to express themselves on paper.
“I find that a lot of people tend to, especially this time of year with exams, [not] really think through what their emotions are and what their thoughts are,” she said. “So right now we’re really working on journaling and understanding how to recognize your emotions.”
“I believe that if it makes a difference in one person’s life, it makes a difference for many people because they will carry out these connections that they’ve gained and the new skills that they gained within this group and can influence many people and generations going down to build healthy connections as well,” she said of the peer group.
Outside the classroom, Williamson Bathory is helping to put Nunavut on the speedskating map.
At the 2023 Arctic Winter Games in Alberta earlier this year, she brought home three gold medals for Team Nunavut in short-track speedskating.
A few weeks later, she followed that by breaking multiple Nunavut speedskating records at the 2023 Canada Winter Games in Prince Edward Island and also served as Nunavut’s flag-bearer in the opening ceremonies.
“That was a pretty amazing achievement, so I’m really proud of myself for that,” she said.
When she’s not breaking records herself, she’s coaching the next generation of Nunavut skaters and creating programming for her younger teammates.
“For me, being able to see the progress that these children go through with speedskating helps me to also reflect on my life and to be able to celebrate all the victories big and small and to push through difficulties within life and to really embrace every moment,” she said.
“It’s been such an amazing experience being able to coach and to become a stronger person.”
Williamson Bathory is also fluent in Kalaallisut, or Greenlandic, and is learning to read and write in Inuktitut.
Two teachers, in particular, had a profound impact on her journey to learn new languages: Miali Coley-Sudlovenick, who helped her learn Inuktitut, and Ida Gardener who helped strengthen her English skills in elementary school, she said.
Last year, another Nunavut student, Anna Irwin of Clyde River, was also named a Loran Scholar.
As a Loran Scholar, Williamson Bathory will not only receive $100,000 to go toward her education, but throughout her four-year undergraduate program she’ll also receive mentorship, national and international summer work experiences, attend annual retreats and gatherings, receive an annual living stipend and make connections with a large support network through the program.
In the fall, Williamson Bathory will begin studying sociology at the University of Calgary and continue competing in short-track speedskating.
“What I’m looking forward to most is really meeting new people and listening to their experiences and having those friendships that last for so long,” she said about becoming a Loran Scholar.
“Honestly, it’s such an amazing opportunity and I really hope more Nunavummiut will know about it and will apply to it for the next time.”
She encourages other young people in the territory to not be shy about expressing their true selves and to take advantage of opportunities like this program.
“I really hope more youth in Nunavut see the scholarship as a great opportunity,” she said.