“You have the right to be unique. You have the right to be true to you. You have the right to be yourself.”
Nine hundred Grade 9 and 10 Comox Valley girls loudly applauded when they heard these final words from sexual health educator Dr. Claire Vanston’s speech during the Be You Be True Girls’ Seminar.
“You have the right to say no (to sex) without consequence. If there is coercion, manipulation, or pressure, you do not have the respect that you deserve. And young women, at your age, boyfriends are like buses; there’s another one right around the corner,” Vanston said, bringing laughs from the audience. “You don’t have to put up with them if that’s not what you want.”
The seminar ran from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday at Mark R. Isfeld Secondary School, though it was organized by Cumberland Junior School teacher Jina Taylor and her leadership class. Similar, but smaller events were held in Cumberland the past two years, and they featured FearlesslyGiRL’s leadership and empowerment speaker Kate Whitfield.
About 250 students attended the first event at Cumberland Junior, and 450 attended the second. But, this year, because all Grade 9 and 10 girls in the district attended — about 900 girls — the seminar was moved to Isfeld’s gym.
Taylor decided to change the format, too, and the seminar featured six presentations — including a video about the Comox Valley Girls Group, a talk about Internet safety and a presentation about the SafeTeen program — plus an introduction by Comox Valley School District superintendent Sherry Elwood.
During the break after the first few presentations, Grade 9 Isfeld student Alex Kramer said hearing Elwood’s story was inspiring.
“When Sherry Elwood shared her back story, I thought that was really interesting because I never expected that from her being a woman in power,” said Kramer. “She talked about how she grew up in poverty and how she was excluded because she was a girl.”
Grade 10 Isfeld student Odessa Gibson said she enjoyed all the presentations she had seen during the first portion of the event.
“I think (the seminar is) an important thing,” she said. “And, I think this whole day is something that could be an example for other school districts.”
Grade 11 G.P. Vanier student Josie Patterson received a standing ovation after reciting her poem, ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Women’ in which she spoke about the world’s view of women, and “the process of women shrinking to allow men more room to grow.”
Taylor said she’s a bit surprised the event has grown so much in three years.
“They all seem to love it, and I just keep running it and it just keeps getting bigger,” she said with a smile, noting Grade 9 and 10 is a good time for girls to hear presentations that make them feel empowered.
“I think this age is super important because this is when they’re influenced the most to make decisions and become really involved with their friends,” said Taylor. “So, it’s really important they need to learn they are them — not just their friends.”