Nfld. & Labrador

'I started crying, I started dancing': Rencontre student wins $100K scholarship

Lydia Hardy of Rencontre East, roughly 200 kilometres south of Grand Falls-Windsor, is one of the 2020 Loran Scholar recipients, a $100, 000 scholarship award for character, service and leadership.

5,194 students applied for the 2019-20 scholarship, 36 were chosen

Lydia Hardy of Rencontre East is among the 36 winners out of over 5,000 students who applied for the scholarship this year. (Submitted by Loran Scholars Foundation)

Lydia Hardy of Rencontre East, roughly 200 kilometres south of Grand Falls-Windsor, won a scholarship valued at $100,000 — now she's ready to do for the world what she did for small-town Newfoundland.

Rencontre East has a population of less than 150, but now can boast that one of their own is among the most recent Loran Scholar recipients, a four-year award for undergraduates who show character, service and leadership.

When it comes to living in a tiny community, Hardy said people don't often speak about their struggles in rural communities where everybody knows everybody. She was diagnosed with depression and anxiety at 11 years old. That same year she came out as bi-sexual.

"Right now I'm still the only openly gay person living in my community," she said.

"A lot of people haven't had exposure to the LGBT community, but I found them generally accepting and supportive of me."

Hardy took things in stride, opting to take the reins and lead the charge in breaking the stigma within her community. She successfully obtained a government grant to renovate her school's bathrooms to double as safe spaces. 

Hardy has worked summer jobs with MOWI, a Norwegian-based seafood company, her local town council and is an advocate for human rights.

But, now it's time for Hardy to leave behind her tightknit community, at least for the time being, but the dedicated student says she's ready to go, albeit with fond memories.

Rencontre East is a small outport community on Newfoundland's south coast. (Submitted by Wanda Sheppard)

"Growing up as a kid in Rencontre, we just had all the freedom in the world. There was never any safety issues. Everyone was family," Hardy, a student of St. Stephen's All Grade, told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

"I've learned the most valuable life lessons here ... but I'm ready to move on now to bigger things."  

Almost 5,200 applicants

The award gives Hardy an annual living stipend and matching tuition from one of Loran Scholar's 25 partner universities, plus summer internship funding, one-on-one mentorship and the opportunity to connect with other "high-potential" youth through the foundation's gatherings.

She was flying home from Toronto — where the 88 finalists had travelled for the last part of the scholarship's selection process — and she got stuck in Montreal due to flight cancellations. 

It was then she got the call that was one of the winners. 

"I dropped to the floor, I started crying, I started dancing," Hardy said.

Loran Scholar's Foundation said 5,194 students applied for the 2020 scholarship — only 36 were chosen overall. 

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from the St. John's Morning Show