Crossing paths, convocation, and the lasting impact of mentorship
Christina Stafford, who began her educational journey at Bow Valley College in 2021, was selected as the valedictorian for the School of Community Studies and School of Health and Wellness for 2023 Fall Convocation. Nicole Mizzi has been an instructor at the College in the Child and Youth Care program since 2019.
They first met about 20 years ago, when Christina and Nicole met through a program called Sidedoor.
“I was just like a street kid hanging out downtown, and they had this place you could go called Sidedoor. You would go there to get sandwiches and stuff, or shower, whatever you needed,” Christina recalls. “I was young when I was working with Nicole, and I would go to Sidedoor every day, and she would just encourage me and ask whenever I needed help. Or she would, you know, tell me when I was being dumb, or when I was hanging around with the wrong people or just not doing what I should or could do.”
They stayed in touch until around 2007, but lost contact until Christina walked into class on her very first day at Bow Valley College – where Nicole, coincidentally, was her instructor.
Nicole and Christina both described seeing each other after so long was as exciting as it was strange. As they caught up on the years that had passed, it became clear that their paths had crossed for a reason - Christina's successes and Nicole's dedication to helping others had come full circle.
When Christina was announced as valedictorian for the School of Community Studies and School of Health and Wellness this year, Nicole said she “knew it had to happen that way.”
“Like I honestly would have started crying if she didn't get it because I just knew how important school is to her. And Christina has always been somebody who wants more for herself, so she worked so hard in every class,” Nicole shares. “I've taught her several times and so I've seen the growth as a student and I just thought, like, what a cool story that would be to go from nothing to just having this huge responsibility of being valedictorian. She just had to get it. She just had to.”
Christina has always loved education and dreamt of going back to school after she stopped attending around Grade 5. She plans to return to Bow Valley College to teach in the Child and Youth Care program once completing her bachelor's degree at the University of Victoria – where Nicole will also be attending to obtain her Masters of Child and Youth Care.
Seeing the growth in students and following their journey was one of the main factors that led Nicole to becoming an instructor at Bow Valley College, with Christina reflecting on just how influential Nicole’s mentorship was.
“I was young when I was working with Nicole and I would go every day to Sidedoor, and she would just encourage me and ask whenever I needed help. Or she would, you know, tell me when I was being dumb or just not doing what I should or could do. When you have people working with you that truly care and really have your best interest in mind, that sticks with you,” Christina says.
When Christina turned 18, Nicole wrote a reference letter for her to use when applying for a job at a day camp, knowing Christina would be the perfect fit for working with the youth there. She held on to that physical letter, showing Nicole after a few months of class that she had kept it with her throughout the years.
"This piece of paper was the only reference letter I ever had in my life. And it was like my little validation paper that I'm smart and I will be good enough to work with children and youth one day," Christina remarks. “So, when I walked into the classroom and I saw her, I could be like “see, I listened!” - it just took me 20 years.”
Above all, Nicole thinks stories like Christina’s show the importance of perseverance and the undeniable impact that belief in oneself, even in the face of long and challenging journeys, can have on achieving your goals.
“I think it's really important for people to remember that just because they had an experience that wasn't their best as a child or an adolescent that it doesn't mean that that's the be all end all,” Nicole says.
“And Christina is a classic example of someone who didn’t have the support that she deserved when she was younger and managed to be so resilient. I think it's important for people to remember that it doesn't just define you, this one moment in time, and you can go on to do great things.”
We congratulate Christina once again for being named valedictorian for the School of Community Studies and School of Health and Wellness and wish her and Nicole the best during their studies at the University of Victoria.