Shawn Iserhoff modestly shrugs his shoulders and flashes his trademark smile when asked whether he considers himself an ambassador for the Cree community.
“In some cases, I like to think of it that way, and I’m always conscious of it, but I’m just another student trying to go far,” said Iserhoff, a Grade 12 student who left the northern Quebec regions of Mistissini and Chibougamau three years ago for Stanstead College, an independent co-edu-cational boarding school 150 kilometres southeast of Montreal and several hundred kilometres south of his home.
As he strives to achieve his lofty aspirations, Iserhoff is doing himself and his community proud. Academically, he is an honours student. Athletically, he is a key component on the football and hockey teams – following up on a fine career in the minor hockey system in Chibougamau. Stanstead head coach Mike McNamara describes him as an individual who “plays with great skill and determination, as well as providing outstanding leadership.”
His leadership qualities have been recognized on and off the ice – his hockey teammates recently elected him team captain and his peers on the Stanstead campus chose him as the school’s head prefect, a selection that was endorsed by the faculty. When he isn’t hitting the books or the ice, Shawn is actively involved in community service, joining a group of Stanstead students who visit a neighbouring elementary school once a week to carry out mentoring duties.
“Shawn has exuded a quiet confidence and a commitment to a strong sense of community since his arrival at Stanstead College,” said the College’s headmaster, Chris Shannon. “He is an impressive young man who has set his goals high, and I believe he is focused and determined enough to achieve all his aspirations.”
In his role as head prefect, Iserhoff is the leader of the Stanstead student body in all aspects of school life. Shawn is the first indigenous person to be selected head prefect at Stanstead, a school that has 18 different nationalities represented among its 230-student population. This year’s student enrollment includes four Cree community members and one from the Mohawk nation.
“Shawn is the personification of a leader,” said Andrew Elliot, his adviser at Stanstead College. “He has an ingrained sense of service and a willingness to consistently work hard to achieve his goals.
He’s a scholar, athlete and natural leader, and he’s also a very modest person. That’s what makes him even more special.
The possibility of one day being selected head prefect never entered Iserhoff’s mind when he first arrived on the Stanstead campus three years ago. Based on his academic performance, he was awarded a scholarship by Stanstead and by the Cree School Board to attend the College, which he had learned about from Cree friends who preceded him there.
“My first thought when I got here was that I would be going back home soon,” recalls Iserhoff, whose father Matthew, mother Annie and brothers Matthew and Ashley still live in Mistissini. “I was used to a small public school, and even though Stanstead only has 10 or 11 students in each class, it was a big difference for me. I was used to conversing with my friends in Cree and attending high school in a classroom with only a handful of students. I was a bit overwhelmed by everything at first; the culture change was very different.”
As is the case for the majority of students in a new school setting, Iserhoff went through a settling-in period. “It took me just about all of the first semester to get adjusted,” he recalls. “But as I went along, I found it was the same for most of the other students – they needed time to get adjusted to their new environment. I tried to be more sociable and outgoing, and the interaction that we had with each other was a big help in adapting to the new surroundings.”
As he prepares to graduate from Stanstead, Shawn, who lists biology and English as two of his strongest subjects academically, is also mapping out his future. His ambition is to earn his medical degree, whereupon he would like to return to his Cree village and open up a practice – in keeping with the priority that he places on sense of service to his community.
“One of the aspects of being a small northern community such as ours is that there is an acute shortage of doctors,” said Shawn. “I’d like to return to my community and help them out in this regard. For me, it’s a way of giving back to your community.”