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Should they stay or should they go?
Three graduate students toss their hats into a blue sky. Many high school students in Newfoundland and Labrador have mixed feelings about the direction they will take after graduating.
If you could start again as a high school graduate — here, today, in this fiscal climate — what would you do with your life? Would you stay in Newfoundland and Labrador, or would you be on the first plane, car or ferry out of here?
The Telegram asked 82 young people from all over the province about such things as their final semester of high school comes to an end: their plans for the future, their feelings about home and their thoughts on the province’s fiscal situation.
And oh, the places they’ll go.
There’s a young person in central Newfoundland who feels that Newfoundland and Labrador is a sinking ship.
That young person, who is counting down the final days of high school, will leave soon.
Another grad in western Newfoundland is leaving, too, but for a different reason: you can’t study astrobiology here.
A Grand Bank grad wants to stay in the province, but says there are no opportunities at home. They will probably end up moving to another community.
A graduate in Labrador plans to leave town to complete post-secondary education, but is set on returning. “I will be better equipped to make positive changes in my community. I know I can make a difference, and having a higher education is one of the first steps I need to take in order to achieve that,” the graduate wrote in an anonymous survey distributed by The Telegram.
Eighty high school grads from around the province completed our online survey, offering their thoughts on the province’s fiscal situation, their future plans and their feelings about home.
Of those, about two-thirds (64.3 per cent) have long-term plans — beyond post-secondary education — to live outside the province. Only 13 per cent want to settle down in their hometown; 15 per cent want to move somewhere else in the province; and nine per cent aren’t sure yet, or provided an alternative answer (one says, “I plan to stay in Canada but I will go wherever I can get a job”).
The highest percentage of respondents who intend to leave in the long term were from eastern Newfoundland, with 75 per cent planning to pack their bags.
Others in the province are leaning towards leaving, but not in as high a number; many plan to stay in the province, but move to another community. Graduates in Labrador and western Newfoundland are pretty evenly split between staying and going, and none of the students from central Newfoundland who answered the poll are committed to staying in their community.
Reasons for leaving
Participants from all corners of the province, writing about why they want to stay or go, seem to be on the same page, or at least the same chapter; words used over and over again included “opportunity,” “work” and “isolation.”
There are other reasons people want to leave, too, such as a lack of diversity, inadequate mental health care, small-town gossip, lack of support for the arts, and an absence of faith in the province’s future. And, as with other generations, there is much grumbling about weather and potholes.
Some responses are pretty grim.
“The financial situation, no matter how much the government would like us to think is getting better, is not, as budget cuts and such aren’t going to get us out of a hole if we just keep on digging. There is no reason to stay on a sinking ship if there is a life-raft nearby,” one grad, from central Newfoundland, writes.
“The job and housing markets are poor here, the politicians don’t understand how to manage our budget, which leads to vital things like libraries losing their funding and a book tax being instituted (even when literacy is way down in the province); we have no reliable public transport, our infrastructure is literally crumbling around us, we rely on everything to be shipped in to us, which results in a less than favourable diet, there is very little to do that doesn’t involve drinking, etc.,” writes a grad from eastern Newfoundland.
Several say they don’t want to leave their families behind, but feel they may have to leave in order to find meaningful work; a few plan to leave because they don’t have many relatives in the province.
Others aren’t so much anxious to get out of Newfoundland and Labrador as they are excited about the prospect of travelling and experiencing new things. It’s not always out of a lack of love; one grad cites the fear of missing out.
On the fiscal climate
Whatever their reasons, the province’s fiscal reality is not lost on young people. While there are a few survey respondents who are unfamiliar with Newfoundland and Labrador’s financial woes, or who don’t think it affects their communities much, others are painfully aware.
The Telegram asked poll respondents to indicate, on a scale from 1-10, how stressed it makes them feel, and the average was 7.
They were asked how they feel the fiscal situation affects their community.
“We see our community losing a large portion of its services as time progresses, funding is being cut left, right and centre and it’s difficult for us to keep up,” says a grad from Labrador.
A grad on the west coast says: “It means both my parents probably won’t have jobs next year.”
A grad from central is concerned about infrastructure — and grandmothers: “Potholes. Potholes deep enough your poor grandmudder would drown in them. And they aren’t being fixed due to lack of funds.”
An answer from eastern Newfoundland is simple and devastating: “Majorly, stress is ruining lives.”
Most of the grads, if not optimistic about the province’s future, seem pretty positive about their own paths. Asked to rate, on a scale of 1-10, how optimistic they were about their futures, the answers averaged 7.29.
All but three say they plan to go to post-secondary school, and two of those three say they aren’t sure yet what they’ll do. Many are already envisioning careers in various fields, such as the arts, engineering, and astrobiology.
More than half — 58.5 per cent — say they will go to post-secondary school in this province; low tuition is cited as an incentive to study at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
Then most of them will leave.
What irks them
What else are they walking away from? Grads wrote about the things they dislike about their communities, and many were on the same page. Isolation, weather, the cost of living, lack of public transportation and a lack of things to do top the list.
A grad in eastern Newfoundland says there is no progress in their town, or any community they’ve visited.
“Seems like everything is just waiting to die with age, no great job opportunities, you have to leave to do most things in life, not much opportunity here to be as successful as you want to,” they write.
Several respondents feel pushed away by social issues.
“They say that Newfoundland is one of the nicest places in the world, but in St. John’s, people are just mean. They’re angry, stubborn, ungrateful, and just plain mean,” one answer reads.
A grad in western Newfoundland feels that young people on the Avalon have an advantage over peers in other parts of the province.
“The lack of opportunities to excel in areas such as sports, music and academically. I have played on provincial teams in four sports disciplines, and have always been forced to travel to St. John’s to continue to play at a high level.”
What they love
But there’s a lot these young people will miss if they move away. The Telegram asked them what they like about their communities, and got some inspired answers.
“The small-town feel, it’s safe and everywhere you go in the community, you know almost everyone there! N.L. is also incredibly beautiful. I greatly value being next to the ocean in my town,” writes a grad from eastern Newfoundland.
“We just live in the backwoods, and it can be very relaxing. You can get anywhere on ATV or snowmobile, everyone knows everyone, a peaceful walk in the woods is in your backyard, it is very great for the outdoorsman,” writes a grad in central.
A grad in western Newfoundland with an obvious sense of humour writes: “The fact that I can stumble into traffic at any time, but the cars move so slow I can dodge them, like Neo in ‘The Matrix.’”
In Labrador, answers show the grads’ affection for the people, and the landscape.
“The things I like about living in my community is that it had a small population and you know everyone! Everyone gives people a helping hand if needed. Also there are so many outside activities like, Ski-Dooing, going to cabin, four-wheeler, going out in boat, which just makes it feel so free cause you can leave your door and to do these things, which is very convenient,” one grad says.
Many answers from every region — written by people who plan to stay and from those who plan to leave — show a lot of love for the places they call home.
“I love my community because I have lived here my whole life. It’s been the only community I’ve known,” says a grad from the west coast.
“I have loved growing up there and love the community. I would live there and raise my kids there, but it’s pretty small and there isn’t a whole lot to do.”
Eighty-two is a fraction of the number of students graduating from high school in Newfoundland and Labrador this year, and this exercise only reflects those people who took part. But when The Telegram interviewed students from around the province — from Nain, Labrador City, Conche, Corner Brook, Isle aux Morts, Norris Arm North, Little Bay (Marystown) and St. John’s — and told them the results, several felt the results represented their graduating classes pretty well. Others said they figure about half their classes would leave.
School is out Thursday for students in both the English and French school districts.
The Telegram wishes all graduates, whatever their plans, a happy and prosperous future.