From drop-out to master's student, Inuvik woman says 'stay in school'

Crystal Lennie now has a diploma and a bachelor's degree, and wants to be a deputy health minister. She calls education a 'lifelong journey.'

Crystal Lennie now has a diploma and a bachelor's degree, and wants to be a deputy health minister

Crystal Lennie is a high school drop-out from Inuvik who’s now enrolled as a master's student at the University of Alberta. Here she is at her graduation at Liberty University in Virginia, where she earned a bachelor of science degree. (Submitted by Crystal Lennie)

The N.W.T.'s deputy health minister better watch out — Crystal Lennie could be coming for his job.

Lennie, 39, is a high school drop-out from Inuvik who's now enrolled as a master's student at the University of Alberta. She calls education a "lifelong journey."

Lennie left school in Grade 9, but as she watched her friends graduate she came to a sudden realization.

"I was just like, wow I'm not going to ever achieve my life goal of being a doctor. I'm not going to be able to do anything."

So, with help from the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, she enrolled at MacEwan University and did an accelerated program to complete grades 10 through 12. The program was tough, but being in Edmonton was tougher.

"The biggest challenge was being away from home and living in the South," Lennie said. "To learn how to use the bus system, to learn how to get a support network in the South, and the culture shock of there's so much happening and you need to stay focused."

Lennie with her mother. She says her parents always encouraged her to get an education. (Submitted by Crystal Lennie)

Lennie says there's been a pattern in her life that she's now trying to turn around. She laughs when she recalls seeing a message in church urging people to finish what they start.

"I didn't finish anything that I started," she said. "My parents have always encouraged me to get my education, keep moving forward."

So that's what she did.

Lennie got a diploma in business administration at Aurora College in 2014; in 2015 she graduated with a bachelor of science in interdisciplinary studies from Liberty University in Virginia through distance education.

When Lennie learned about the University of Alberta's master of public health degree, she was interested. She had just applied to medical school but hadn't gotten in.

Lennie with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Inuvik airport during his 2015 campaign. Lennie also interviewed Trudeau about a career goal she aspires to. (Submitted by Crystal Lennie)

"I thought, you know what, I'm just going to see if I get in. And I did. And so I'm very excited to be in the program," Lennie said.

When asked about her goals, she said she recently did a project on becoming a deputy minister of health.

"I feel that it's good to always have high career aspirations, and even if you don't obtain them, at least you have a goal."

Lennie says Indigenous people have to work hard to overcome barriers, noting that even graduating high school can be difficult in the North.

"One of the barriers that we have is that there isn't a university in the North. There isn't that stepping stone for higher learning," she said.

Lennie's advice to young people?

"Stay in school, work hard, even one step forward is still one step forward," she said. 

"Education opens so many doors. And it's a lot of work, it's a lot of sacrifice. But in the end it's worth it."

Written by Katherine Barton, based on an interview by Loren McGinnis