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Inspire: Karina Kirwan knows big dreams need hard work

This Grade 12 Lively District Secondary School student funded her own European trips and has a clear plan for her future in the trades
Karina Kirwan, a Grade 12 student at Lively District Secondary School, dreams big and has the drive to make those dreams a reality.

Karina Kirwan, a Grade 12 student at Lively District Secondary School, dreams big.

“Not only do I dream big, but I’m known to make it happen,” said Kirwan. 

She isn’t exaggerating. After a lot of hard work, she made it to Europe. 

“Two dreams of mine were to visit Paris and become more fluent in French,” said Kirwan. “Back in  2022, I was able to make that dream a reality.”

Through a private summer school academy in Southern Ontario, Global Summers Academy, Kirwan  was able to travel to France for a month, while earning her Grade 11 Core French credit.

Karina Kirwan (right) and teammate Micheala McDonald (left) sitting on the bench they made for the Ontario Skills Competition, the only all-female team to compete. Supplied

“I went without knowing any other students before the trip and being the only one from Northern Ontario,” she said. “I can say without a doubt that that experience instilled an even greater love for travel and showed me the benefits that come from non-traditional education spaces. My trip to France with Global Summers was such a great experience that the following summer, in 2023, I returned to Europe on another trip with them. 

“This time to Italy to earn my Grade 12 English credit. The small class sizes mixed with experiential learning, made for great academic success.”

But European schooling isn’t Kirwan’s only interest. She balances that side of her life with an interest  in the trades, recently placing second in the Ontario Skills Competition as part of a two-person team. “Growing up in Lively, I am surrounded by people working in the trades. However, I was never truly involved. When I started Grade 9 at Lively District Secondary School, known for trades, I was put in a tech rotation. For one period a semester, I rotated through learning about automotive, manufacturing, carpentry and computer-skilled trades. As a student who prides myself on taking anything new I’m taught in academic classes and excelling, I did the same with the trades classes. 

“I knew after I finished the rotation, carpentry was the most fulfilling and interesting trades class for  me. From there, I chose construction technologies as an elective throughout high school. If it wasn't for Lively’s well-rounded technology program, I would probably never have gotten so involved in  carpentry in high school.” 

Kirwan is proud of her recent placement at the provincial skills competition. 

“We participated two years in a row,” she said. “The first year, my team of two didn’t place, but we were not discouraged and came back the following year to win second place! What made it really special was not only placing second, but being the only all-woman team of two to compete.” 

Always ambitious, Kirwan financed her European learning opportunities on her own. Even before she  turned 14, she was applying for jobs. Shortly after her birthday, and during the pandemic, she landed a  position as Smith’s Market grocery store, where she remains employed. 

When asked what she considers her greatest success, Kirwan said, “As mentioned, I was fortunate enough to travel to Europe twice. This wasn’t because my family paid for the trips; it was because of my job at Smith’s. For a year leading up to both trips, I saved the majority of my paychecks to afford those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.”

Her hard work in the grocery store was recently rewarded as well. 

“I happily worked as a cashier for about a year and a half, learning the values that come with employment. I built a strong connection with my colleagues, which led to my promotion to supervisor in produce. It’s been eight months in this position and I’ve learned even more. I have to be independent, a quick thinker, a problem solver and a role model for other employees.” 

Karina Kirwan (left) and teammate Micheala McDonald with their second place medals from the Ontario Skills Competition, the only all-female team to compete. Supplied

Kirwan credits her parents for her love of travel and her work ethic. 

“I owe it to my parents for some of my best traits in life,” she said. “My mom, being the educator she is, instilled the importance of education in me from a young age. That is one of the reasons why I value my education and continue to learn to receive outstanding marks. My dad, being the miner he is, instilled the importance of hard work and dedication. He has always worked extremely hard to be able to plan grand family vacations. 

“It’s one of the reasons I have a love for travel. I will always value the hard work it took to  independently finance two European trips. My parents are the reasons why as I grow up, I value  education, work and travel.” 

Ask what her future might hold, it’s no surprise to find Kirwan has a blueprint.  

“My future plans are to move out in the fall to Ottawa. There, I will be attending the University of  Ottawa to receive a Bachelor of Science in biomedical science. With that, my hopes and dreams would  be to further my education and attend dental school.” 

Karina Kirwan’s words of inspiration 

“If I had to choose one message to give to the world, it would be to never stop dreaming of the future  you want for yourself because the only limitation to not becoming one step closer to the life you want,  is your mindset. Make a dream, make a plan and make it happen!” 

James Stewart is a writer in North Bay. Inspire is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.


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