Donya Ashnaei ’17 is headed off to university with an already-impressive resume.
She figured out the daunting, age-old question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” when she was just a kid, a mere six years’ old: to practice law and serve as a politician.
Donya confesses her realization came from a place most would be hesitant to divulge: the comedy Legally Blonde. “That’s a really bad reason to want to do something,” Donya admits, laughing.
While her incentive may have been admittedly ill-conceived (she was only six, after all), that’s just about the only part of Donya’s story that is. Since watching the pop-culture classic, Donya has enriched all parts of her life—her studies at school, her service in the community, and her volunteerism in the political arena—with purpose.
Donya has taken every opportunity to explore her emerging interest. She has shadowed lawyers, spent a day in a courthouse, and even figured out what careers she would not be interested in. In Donya’s case, it was medicine: “Oh yeah, I realized quickly that would not be for me,” she laughs.
What finally settled things for her happened during her first year at Meadowridge, when she was in grade 9. Donya took part in Civic Mirror: her classroom was transformed into a mock-government, and her classmates into politicians, house representatives, and civilians. Donya was elected to Prime Minister. By day’s end, she knew for sure she wanted to become a politician.
She joined Student Council as soon as she could; and, after serving on council for two years, was elected Council President. Donya and her executive made use of their term, re-shaping council’s mandate with greater focus. “Student Council used to be more about running lunchtime events,” Donya explains, “but we geared it more to the political sides of things.” They hosted the first-ever LGBTQ+ Awareness Week, and—the thing Donya is proudest of—they rallied for, and successfully introduced, gender-neutral washrooms. “We managed to leave a mark on the school; [the bathrooms] are going to be there forever,” Donya nods.
When it came time to choose a university, the culmination of Donya’s experience—the Diploma Programme, theatre, volunteerism, Student Council—they all provided clarity for her next steps. When she heard about the Parliamentary Page Program, she knew she had to apply
In addition to Student Council, Donya also joined the Model United Nations and ran the debate club. Outside of school, she volunteered during municipal elections. She started from the ground-up, going door-to-door meeting with local constituents. “I just connect with people,” Donya explains of her role, “trying to see if what was offered was right for them.”
Whether Donya was meeting with administration at our school, with voters at their doorsteps, or with peers at Model United Nations’ conferences, one thing was certain: she had to be outgoing. So, Donya pushed herself in her theatre classes. For her final performance, she opted to perform a solo piece using the Meisner Technique, an approach which pushes the actor to react and behave instinctively; “it’s using the moment’s energy to have an authentic response—you don’t plan it: you don’t say I will cry here, laugh here, stand here, say this here…” At the time, Donya just wanted to explore theatre, but she realizes now there was a connection all along: “I see the connection now: controlling emotion, seeing responses, being mindful of the people around you…”
She pursued her interests even further, making use of personal learning opportunities in the Diploma Programme. Her Extended Essay explored the Persian Revolution, while her Internal Assessments in Math delved into investments and banking. No matter the subject, Donya approached each assessment, essay, or task with excitement—it was an opportunity to hone her skills, to explore her interests. “The Diploma Programme lets you find your interests from freedom of choice, and that’s definitely how I further figured out what is close to my heart.”
When it came time to choose a university, the culmination of Donya’s experience—the Diploma Programme, theatre, volunteerism, Student Council—they all provided clarity for her next steps. When she heard about the Parliamentary Page Program, she knew she had to apply; “It’s everything I love. You’re right in the middle of the action! Bills being passed, Members of Parliament debating...” Donya beams, “If you want to debate about politics, find me wherever, whenever.”
After a rigorous application process, including two interviews and an essay, she was elated to be accepted. Come fall, Donya will be assuming her new role as a Parliamentary Page in the House of Commons while beginning her degree in International Management at the University of Ottawa.
Donya is more than well-prepared for this next step, and credits involvement as a big part to her success, to getting where she always wanted to be. By getting involved, by trying things out, you figure out pretty quickly where your passion lies. “In my other schools I wasn’t as involved,” Donya explains, “but coming here, that changed pretty quick: when the community is so tight-knit, it shapes you into a different person.”