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Shoot for the stars: Saanich student wins national essay contest

Tavania Chichak, a Grade 6 student in Saanich, won the middle school category of A&E’s Lives That Make a Difference essay contest for her writings on Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. - Kyle Slavin/News staff
Tavania Chichak, a Grade 6 student in Saanich, won the middle school category of A&E’s Lives That Make a Difference essay contest for her writings on Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.
— image credit: Kyle Slavin/News staff

Tavania Chichak received a life-sized poster of astronaut Chris Hadfield as a gift in 2010.

Like most kids under the age of 10, she didn't know who he was. Nor was this then-elementary school student too inclined to have a poster of a mustachioed, middle-aged man up on her bedroom wall.

But now the 12-year-old Glanford middle school student can't help but giggle thinking about her first introduction to Hadfield, a man who became a role model to thousands of students and is now making a big difference in her life.

"Three, two, one…BLAST OFF! With his adrenaline pumping, Chris Hadfield completed another space mission in 2013 ending his astronaut career with three unbelievable space voyages. This Canadian pioneer has helped remove barriers to the space frontier. He reminds me of those early Canadian settlers who travelled long distances to brave new worlds. Our great Canadian nation was born of people like Chris Hadfield who had to be innovators on the spot figuring out how to survive in harsh conditions and imagining new worlds." This is the first paragraph of an essay Chichak wrote for A&E's Lives That Make a Difference contest.

A panel of judges loved the Saanich student's eloquent, innovative and well-researched essay on the Canadian astronaut, winning her the grand prize title and $3,000 cash.

"I decided to write about Chris Hadfield because I thought he was quite an interesting subject and he reminded me of a space pioneer because he broke those barriers and that's what the pioneers did to conquer the land of Canada," Chichak says.

The Grade 6 student says she became a fan of the astronaut as his popularity grew internationally while commandeering the International Space Station. The astronaut became a household name in early 2013 for his use of social media while in space to interact with people back on Earth.

"Using social media out in outer space was really interesting because it had never been done before," she says. "I liked how he contacted people going to schools. They were asking questions and then he answered their questions  from space."

She was also impressed by Hadfield's recurring life lesson to shoot for the stars and follow your dreams.

Libby O'Connell, senior vice-president of A&E, says Chichak's 295-word essay really stood out to the judging panel.

"So many kids wrote about Cmdr. Hadfield. In some ways it made it harder (to choose a winner), but in other ways it gave us a context to look at writing ability across the board because so many people were writing about this individual," O'Connell says. "The reason why her essay really stood out is because she started it in such a unique way. It really captures the reader's attention right away."

Thousands of students across Canada entered the contest, with four prizes handed out. Chichak won the Grade 5 to 8 category, while Esquimalt High student Emma Roberts won first prize in the Grade 9-12 category (also for an essay on Hadfield).

"It's almost a current events activity. They're talking about a life, a biography, of someone who has made a big impact on their world," O'Connell says of the contest. "It was really interesting how many entries we had about Cmdr. Hadfield. He stole the hearts of the student generation, that's for sure."

Chichak's grand prize win also earned her teacher, Anna Copp, a $1,000 prize to spend on classroom supplies.

"We're very happy to do that; recognize the role the teacher plays in (developing) the writing skills of the students," O'Connell says.

Copp says she's proud of Chichak's win, and plans on splitting the money with teacher-librarian Mark Leischner, who introduced Glanford students to the contest.

"I really can't take a whole lot of credit for this – all her teachers from kindergarten to now, her parents, all shaping who she is and developing those skills," Copp says.

The plan is to use the money to buy some games for her students, as well as  science materials for the Grade 6 classes.

As for Chichak's prize money, she says she plans to "save some, share some and spend some. I'm going to share some with children in foreign countries who don't have an opportunity to go to school."

In addition to the life-sized poster hanging in her basement and a copy of An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth that she got signed last year, Chichak now has one more Hadfield souvenir, thanks to her teacher.

While her essay will be permanently honoured with a page in this year's Glanford middle school yearbook, a proud Copp reached out to Hadfield to get a comment to add to the page.

"Congratulations, Tavania, for your hard work, courage, creativity and success! I am delighted to have been a small part of your … grand prize award," Hadfield wrote. "Like the launch of a space ship, it is a great start to a wonderful adventure. Your originality can't help but inspire those around you."

That's something Chichak, an aspiring author, is optimistic will happen.

"It was a great opportunity to be in the contest. And I hope that Chris  Hadfield and I can inspire other kids to believe in themselves and pursue their dreams."

editor@saanichnews.com

••••

Tavania Chichak's winning essay

Three, two, one…BLAST OFF! With his adrenaline pumping, Chris Hadfield completed another space mission in 2013 ending his astronaut career with three unbelievable space voyages. This Canadian pioneer has helped remove barriers to the space frontier. He reminds me of those early Canadian settlers who travelled long distances to brave new worlds. Our great Canadian nation was born of people like Chris Hadfield who had to be innovators on the spot figuring out how to survive in harsh conditions and imagining new worlds.

Chris Hadfield’s pioneering spirit had an amazing impact on Canadian society in 2013. As the first Canadian to command the International Space Station, he used social media to talk about life in space. Those podcasts made my eleven year-old spirit dance with excitement as I thought about the future possibilities for mankind. He also was the first person to make music videos in outer space. In 2013, he not only saw the stars but he became one on the international music stage! Chris Hadfield has other firsts such as being the first Canadian to perform a spacewalk when he installed the Canadarm 2 in 2001.

Chris Hadfield is admired by Canadians of all ages. In the younger generation, he encourages kids to believe in themselves and to pursue their dreams.  When he, himself, was nine, he had a dream of becoming an astronaut. He has taught us to follow our dreams with courage, perseverance, and determination even if it means risking the unknown.

Canada was built on heroes and Chris Hadfield is one. Like the first Canadian settlers, he has blazed new paths to start colonizing space. The boy who dared to dream has become our modern-day Canadian pioneering hero.  I wonder if my grandkids will read about his pioneering days in their history books?

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