Interview with Royal St. George's College Alum, Ethan Kelly
Ethan Kelly's advice to new students at Royal St. George’s College is to make the most of the opportunity. He says it’s a school that values kindness and respect and teaches those values as well. The downtown Toronto school has a caring, close-knit community, and a unique environment. ‘Manners maketh men’ is the schools' motto, and Ethan says that was a big part of how St. George’s left its mark on him.
Highlights from the interview
The thing I appreciate most about Royal St. George’s College is that close-knit, caring environment that they have at the school. One of their main core values is that each boy is ‘known and loved’ at the school. It’s not just a saying.
About two days after I started at Royal St. George’s College, I broke my leg very badly in a soccer match, and I ended up in the hospital for about a week. The one thing that really stood out to me was just how caring everyone was at the school while I was in the hospital. Our headmaster — Mr. Beatty — actually visited me in the hospital. The fact that he took the time out of his day to come and visit me in the hospital and say ‘we’re all thinking about you at the school’, it just meant the world to me and to my parents as well. … All the way up to the top ranks of the school, everyone was looking out for me and everyone was caring about me.
What differentiates Royal St. George’s College from other schools is the close community that they have, and the fact that they’re able to really cater to each boy’s individual needs. Because Royal St. George’s College is such a small school, the faculty do get to know each boy so well. What was best for me may not be what’s best for another boy.
Sometimes, as a teenage boy, you may need a little bit of steering and guidance in the right direction. When I was going into my last year [at Royal St. George’s] in Grade 12, I was deciding between going into the AP Calculus class or the regular stream. I signed up for the regular stream and then, just before the start of the school year, one of my old math teachers — and he was my tennis coach also at RSGC, so I knew him quite well — he called my home phone and asked to speak to me and he said, ‘You should be in that AP class. You’re definitely strong enough, and it will benefit you in university.’ I put up a bit of resistance, but eventually followed his advice and took the class, and as he predicted, it helped me tremendously in university.
It’s that level of care that sets Royal St. George’s College apart. They really do go the extra mile to make sure that every boy is maximizing their opportunity and that every boy feels welcomed, and that they’re given that appropriate opportunity to excel. I think that is something that is quite rare and special about St. George’s.
In terms of personality, ‘very kind’ would be the first thing I would say to describe Royal St. George’s College. That’s something that the faculty preach constantly throughout your time — kindness and treating others with respect.
One of the school’s main mottos is ‘Manners maketh men,’ and that’s really drilled into everyone from a very young age. You really do see things like the fact that people hold the door open for each other. You always get greeted with a handshake, people always have tremendous manners, and we would always stand up when an adult entered the classroom. It’s little things like that.
If the school was a person, another trait of the school would be intelligence, because the academic side of Royal St. George’s is very rigorous. It has a very diverse offering, especially considering that it’s a fairly small school. As a student, you have the opportunity to take various first-year university-level courses in high school, which is a tremendous opportunity for any student.
In terms of personality, Royal St. George’s College would be a person that is open to exploring new things, and willing to push their comfort zone. It’s a school that really challenges everyone to try different things throughout their time there, and to really push their boundaries.
[At Royal St. George’s, in Grade 7], you actually have to take Music class every day of the week, which is quite rare for a school. Part of that goes back to the school’s roots: it was originally founded as a boys’ choir school, and that tradition has been carried forward. The fact that the school provides an environment where everyone has to take Music, it allows people to explore different parts of themselves that they hadn’t otherwise seen before.
Kindness is such a big part of the school’s identity, and it is something that is taught continuously throughout your time there. Royal St. George’s is a school that breeds really kind, respectful young men. I’d say that’s absolutely the most common trait amongst everyone, and it’s a really amazing environment to be in. Even now my closest friends are all still from St. George’s. And I’m really proud to call them friends because they’re really great young men.
Outside of the classroom, there are a lot of outdoor education opportunities at Royal St. George’s College. Every year they do an outdoor trip where you get exposed to the wilderness. One year I went dog sledding for five days: you’re staying in yurts overnight, having to build your own fires, boil your own water. To succeed as a student, it takes that openness to grow as a person and to take on the challenges offered by the school.
Royal St. George’s College is a really small environment, so it gives the opportunity to truly be yourself and not have to put on an image for anyone. It’s a school where being in a boys’ choir, singing in falsetto, is actually really cool. Knowing that you can be yourself and that you will be loved for it, and people will appreciate you, I think that is something that is very common throughout the school.
First and foremost, it’s kindness and respect and doing the right thing that are the values of Royal St. George’s College. That’s something that they do teach continuously throughout your time there. When you leave in Grade 12 and go out into the world, I think that’s a common trait that defines all alumni of the school, the fact that we all really value respect and kindness. Getting taught that at a young age is something that carries forward for the rest of your life, and something that I felt personally.
I would say another value of Royal St. George’s would be giving back to the community. There’s a really strong focus on community service at the school. Of course, at every high school in Ontario you have to meet those 40 hours of community service to graduate, but they actually go a step further at Royal St. George’s. I remember in Grade 7 and 8, to graduate from the junior school, you had to do 20 hours of community service, which is not common at a lot of other schools. It gets you focused on that mindset of giving back from a young age.
When I woke up in the morning and went to school, I didn’t really feel like I was just going to school: it felt like I was going to a second home. Straight from the time when I came to my first Open House day, I had that feeling of comfort and that I was cared for. It’s not just a show, it’s not just for the Open House — that is how I felt every single day when I walked into the school.
I would not be the person I am today if I hadn’t attended Royal St. George’s College. They do things like emphasize kindness [and respect]. … I can see [the school’s values] in myself, and they really came from Royal St. George’s College.
In terms of confidence, Royal St. George’s College gave me the environment that I needed to really flourish academically, socially and mentally. It was just the perfect atmosphere that allowed me to go into my university studies feeling very confident in myself and confident in the path that I was on going forward.
[You come to appreciate] just how special that environment is [at Royal St. George’s College]. Once you leave that environment and go into university — where you’re one of the thousands of students — it puts it into perspective, and it makes you very grateful that you had that experience and those opportunities when you were younger at Royal St. George’s.
I’ve been surprised at how strong the alumni community is [at Royal St. George’s College]. I still feel very much a part of the Royal St. George’s community, even though I’m four years out from since I have graduated.
One of the biggest reasons someone should attend Royal St. George’s College is for the community — it’s really special and really rare. Everyone is so invested in making sure you have the best experience possible and making sure that you’re able to make the most of the opportunities available to you. That’s something that really blew my mind, looking back on my experiences at the school.
One reason [to choose Royal St. George’s] would be the academic side. The school offers very strong academics. There’s a variety of Advanced Placement courses to take. … I was more on the Business and Liberal Arts side of things, but there’s a really great Computer Science program that they have at the school, and I know many people who were involved in that, who loved it and who have gone on to have a lot of success in university because of that. So that’s another reason [to choose Royal St. George’s]: the school’s academics, and the breadth of opportunities that you have, especially for such a small-school environment.
There is a real emphasis that Royal St. George’s College places on becoming a better person. On top of just academics, getting good marks, and getting into a good university, they emphasize becoming a better person and becoming the best version of yourself.
There are just so many ways to challenge yourself and grow as an individual throughout your time at Royal St. George’s College. The faculty really want you to make the most of those opportunities. … You do get a lot of guidance along the way, and the extra mile that the school goes really allows you to grow as a person on top of as a student.
Parents can feel confident knowing that their boy is going to be well cared for at [Royal St. George’s College]. … People really will care about your kid, want them to succeed, and if they’re doing well, they’ll have so many opportunities available to them. If a student is struggling, there are so many resources available — whether it’s mental health counsellors or any form of academic guidance. There’s just so much support available. No matter what situation any kid is in, Royal St. George’s can provide the right resources to make sure they have the best possible experience.
My one piece of advice to future Royal St. George’s College students would be to go in with an open mind, be ready to challenge yourselves. … Maximize all of the great variety of opportunities that are available to you. When you leave that environment and go to university, if you have pushed yourself outside of your comfort zone and tried new things in those years, you’re going to notice the payback later on. You’re going to be a more confident, and a more well-rounded person.