Representing the Selkirk College Class of 2020 as valedictorian is an honour Emily Kantymir never would have expected when she embarked on her nursing studies, but it’s completely fitting given her commitment to serving others.
A graduate of the four-year Bachelor of Nursing Program, Kantymir’s decision to pursue post-secondary studies came after a chat with a colleague while working an overnight shift at a Nelson homeless shelter. As a co-parent to a young son, she was looking for a fulfilling career with a solid future both professionally and financially. Nursing seemed like it could be a good fit, but she hadn’t been in school for almost two decades.
Emily Kantymir graduated from the Bachelor of Nursing Program at Selkirk College and her leadership was recognized when she was chosen as one of two valedictorians for the Class of 2020.
While Kantymir had plenty of life experience, having traveled extensively in her 20s and 30s, she had never undertaken post-secondary studies. Ultimately, Kantymir enrolled in Selkirk College’s Academic Upgrading Program, where she rediscovered a passion for formal education.
“I loved school,” says Kantymir, who turned 40 earlier this year. “I loved being in the classroom, my instructors were amazing.”
In April, Kantymir graduated from the BSN degree program at the Castlegar Campus with straight-As and was a leader in her cohort. With her leadership work both on-campus and in the community, Kantymir’s name was put forward by faculty to be one of two valedictorians to represent the Class of 2020.
“When my instructor told me that I was nominated, I was blown away,” she says. “I put my all into school over the last four years and I felt valued by the faculty who saw that dedication. The sacrifices I made had been worth it on many levels.”
The Wandering Ways of Youth
Shortly after graduating from high school in the Lower Mainland, Kantymir was introduced to street nursing by a friend’s mom who worked in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. At the time she was not looking into nursing as a career, but Kantymir started volunteering at a drop-in centre for women in the sex trade. It opened her eyes to the extreme challenges of the street and she would continue to return to helping those struggling through poverty.
She moved to Edmonton in her early-20s and spent the next decade traveling and living abroad in Scotland. In both Edmonton and Scotland, Kantymir worked various positions at drop-in centres and shelters.
“Having the life experience was valuable to me, I had a lot of material to relate it to with my studies in the Nursing Program,” she says.
Co-parenting her son Nico, Emily Kantymir took the challenges of a four-year Bachelor of Nursing Program with zeal. Though there have been plenty of challenges, the Class of 2020 valedictorian has helped secure a brighter future.
She was drawn back to the mountains and fresh air of British Columbia 11 years ago and chose Nelson as her new home. In 2012, her son Nico arrived and became the focal point of Kantymir’s world. When her son turned four, Kantymir was co-parenting and working in the Nelson shelter. She was starting to think about a new direction when the conversation with her colleague about nursing provided the spark.
“It clicked and made sense, it was practical and built on my passions,” she says. “I feel like I stumbled into it for practical reasons and discovered that I absolutely love nursing. It wasn’t this big plan of wanting to be a nurse as a kid, but this is where I am supposed to be.”
The Selkirk College Advantage
The rigours of an intensive four-year degree program had plenty of challenges, but a supportive environment eased the anxiety level. Though students ultimately graduate with a University of Victoria credential, all four years of the Bachelor of Nursing Program are delivered on the Castlegar Campus.
“We are so lucky here,” says Kantymir. “We get to know our instructors and develop these amazing working relationships with them. The support I have received over the last four years has been incredible.”
Emily Kantymir (left) in her first year of the four-year Bachelor of Nursing Program at Selkirk College.
Along with support from instructors and classmates, Kantymir found plenty of motivation through the shared journey with her now eight-year-old son. When she was preparing to give a speech to her graduating Nursing Program class via Zoom last month, Kantymir was nervously preparing when Nico set up his stuffies around the computer to act as an audience to help his mom find calm.
“Even though he is young, I do feel this is good modelling,” she says. “He doesn’t exactly know what a valedictorian is, but he was proud of me and telling everybody. This is a positive influence for him and will help him see what is possible for his own education.”
An Unexpected End to Semester
In early March, Kantymir was on her year-four practicum in Nelson’s Kootenay Lake Hospital where she witnessed the preparation for the COVID-19 pandemic from the front row. Kantymir has a strong interest in emergency room medicine and it was a blow that her dream practicum ended prematurely due to the crisis.
“When it first sounded like we were going to get pulled out of our practicums, I was devastated,” she says. “I loved it there, I fit in and it was an amazing experience.”
Though disappointed in missing the full practicum experience, Kantymir was quickly back into the fray when she took her first position as a nursing graduate with Trail Home Health where she is currently working with people in the clinic and in the home. She is also volunteering at the Kalein Centre in Nelson, the hospice society where she was involved in her fourth-year leadership project.
The in-person Selkirk College Convocation 2020 slated for late-April did not take place due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the honour Kantymir was given to represent the class is still carried with great pride. As one of the voices of leadership for the Class of 2020, Kantymir feels that the pandemic has placed even more importance on the credentials received by graduates in all programs.
“The entire graduating class at Selkirk College will be continuing to develop our skills to adapt to the changing situation we find ourselves in,” she says. “Even though it is challenging, it will strengthen our abilities and allow us to be part of helping the recovery.”
As she turns the page on this chapter of her education, Kantymir looks back on how she arrived to this point with a great sense of accomplishment she hopes will resonate with others.
“I just want people to believe in themselves,” she says. “I told myself for so many years that I couldn’t do something like this. You can’t force it, but when you believe in yourself it is so valuable.”