Out in the Open

Calgary student determined to be first in his family to graduate high school

'I want to have the things that I want. Have the house, have the family, have the good future, be able to go travelling,' said Cauy Healy. He hopes getting his diploma is the first step toward doing all that while also combating stereotypes

Cauy Healy hopes getting his diploma will help combat stereotypes

Cauy Healy, when he was a Grade 11 student at Father Lacombe High School in Calgary. (Courtesy of Chris Brochu)

Update | July 12, 2019: Since this story was first published on June 10, 2018, Cauy Healy successfully graduated from high school and served as valedictorian at a special ceremony for Indigenous graduates in and around Calgary. Healy is now pursuing an apprenticeship in carpentry. The original story runs below.

Cauy Healy goes to his classes, hangs out with his friends and plays football. In that sense, he's not so different from other Grade 11 students at Calgary's Father Lacombe High School. 

His home life is another matter. His family isn't around. He's been working part-time to pay rent and support himself. 

But as challenging as that's been, Healy is determined to do something neither of his parents and none of his siblings have done before: graduate high school. 

"I want to be the first one in my family to have my diploma," the 17-year-old told Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay. "I've been compared to my sisters so many times. Oh, I'm just going to drop out of school. Oh, I'm just going to drink. Oh, I'm just going to have kids."

He said he even heard those comparisons from his own family members. But that just made him more driven.

"I'm going to finish high school," he said. "I'm going to get my diploma. I'm going to walk that stage, and you're going to see, I'm nothing like them."

Staying on track

Healy and his siblings moved around a lot as kids. Counting all his half brothers and sisters, he's one of 11 children, and they were often getting passed between their mom and dad. 

"The first time it happened, I didn't understand it," he said of an early memory of moving between homes. "I'm still trying to understand it now. It felt like we were objects."

No one showed him how to do homework. As he got older, he saw his siblings get involved with drinking and partying as they left school behind. 

"I kind of got off track," he said. "I started getting into the drinking, and I started to skip school. My classes started to drop a little bit."

A wake-up call came when his family was getting kicked out of an apartment for the partying and delinquency on rent payments. At some point, his mother moved out of their Calgary home to Vancouver. Then his older sister left too, leaving him by himself in their basement apartment.

An upstairs neighbour offered Healy a job in exterior renovations, and a room for rent in the house. 

He admits the prospect of dropping out of school has been tempting. "Even sometimes I think about it and I'm like, I don't have to go to school because I have a job lined up. I can do that and make money and not go to school."

'The good future'

But Healy's also out to prove a point. He's trying to push back against stereotypes of Indigenous people like himself.

"People look at me and they tell me I'm completely different from the average native. That kind of makes me laugh. What's the average native? When people think of a native, they think of alcohol, drugs, people on the streets, partying all the time, savages – you live on the reserve, you get money from the government and things like that," he said. 

"I don't want to be thought about like that. I want to have the things that I want. Have the house, have the family, have the good future, be able to go travelling."

Assuming he stays on track, Healy is set to graduate next year. Beyond that, he has decisions to make.

"Honestly, before, I didn't even think I could finish high school," he said. "But now, since I'm on track to finishing high school, I can go to university. I can go get a job. I can travel. It's just so overwhelming that I don't know what to pick from."

But he's not thinking about that just yet. Even crossing the stage at graduation still feels far away.

"I'm just trying to get to that day, trying to survive every single day."

This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "Family Tree".


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