New diploma, fresh outlook

Unlikely high school grad university-bound after extraordinary commitment

Levi Gray can’t remember what’s in the letter he wrote to himself two years ago. He plans to open it today after graduating from Vic High..

Levi Gray can’t remember what’s in the letter he wrote to himself two years ago. He plans to open it today after graduating from Vic High..

Sometime after crossing the stage in his graduation gown today, Levi Gray plans to find a solitary place to pry open an envelope he sealed and signed two years ago.

Its contents, which he wrote to himself, are a mystery to the Grade 12 Vic High student.

“I don’t remember it,” said Gray.

The letter was a personal reflection project he did under the guidance of his math teacher and mentor, Robert Ammon. It contains answers to 12 questions about his life philosophy, his goals and general wellness.

“I really want to open it. I think it will be really interesting to see what I said back then compared to what I say now.”

Growing up, Gray’s family moved almost every year, meaning he never had the time to make friends. He rarely attended class and barely passed his middle school years.

“I didn’t see too much of a point in going to school,” he said, explaining nobody in his family has gone to university.

Things didn’t change overnight when he started at Vic High.

“I was taking all the basic (courses) because I didn’t think I could do any better,” he said. With help from his counsellor, however, he started attending class every day and his grades started improving. As his Grade 9 year progressed, he realized he wanted to switch into Math 10 Principles, a more difficult stream of math.

“I started making some changes because I knew I couldn’t get anywhere with adapted math,” he said, referring to the easy stream.  “I was really fixed on it.”

And that’s how he met Ammon.

Gray still remembers that first day of math class.

“I picked the front row,” he recalled. “(Ammon) was doing his speech like all teachers do the first day … and one thing that I’ll remember for the rest of my life is he said people going from Math 9 Adapted (the low stream) to Math 10 Principles (the high stream) … it’s like going from a bicycle to a Ferrari.”

He felt like the teacher was “tuned on” to him. “It was pretty nerve-wracking,” he said.

But instead of running away, he went to talk to Ammon after class to ask for help. In so doing, he started a pattern that would define both of their lives for the next three years.

Almost every day after school he went to math class for extra help. Ammon’s study sessions would sometimes go until 7 p.m. or even 9 p.m.

“It was really cool because after a while, other students started coming in after school,” Gray said. He and his new friends would turn on the music and get to work.

“This was a good thing for me because, being shy, I never really  hung out with anybody at lunch.” he said. “It really helped me get out of a my shell.”

Soon, he was earning Bs.

“It was such a big thing for me … My parents couldn’t believe that I was getting these good marks,” he said.

For Ammon, the hours and hours spent were a personal sacrifice, but one worthwhile.

“I really made a full commitment to his success,” he said. “There’s lots of students I feel I’ve made a difference with but there’s only so many students that come along that are in a place that he is.”

“Teachers all hope we get a student, one if we’re lucky, where we really truly know that they’ve had some benefit in more of a significant way than what we just do day to day. That’s what (Levi) represents.”

His commitment paid off. Gray was accepted to the University of Victoria’s bachelor of commerce program.

“Getting into pre-business is very exclusive,” added Ammon. “Only a handful of students are selected to do that.”

Gray is excited about his new start come September, and a possible career as an accountant.

“It’s something to work toward. I can’t really say whether I’m going to love (accounting) or not,

but I just know that it feels like the right choice.”

rholmen@vicnews.com