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Whistler meets world

As the graduating class of 2011 moves out into the world, they'll not quickly forget the town that shaped them



It's easy to wax nostalgic about high school. Especially if the experience included countless hours on skies, snowboards, bikes and enjoying lakes and mountains.

That's the case for the 2011 graduates of Whistler Secondary School who, though ebullient over future plans and independence, have not overlooked the influence of their community on who they will become.

Like every class that dons caps and gowns each June, this year's graduating students are a compilation of scholars, athletes and artists, each with a contribution to make. The thing about the class of 2011 that sets them apart is their intellectual intensity.

"This year's grad class has been marked by academic excellence," said Whistler Secondary School Principal Bev Oakley. "For example, there are not too many schools where a student with an 85 per cent class average over their Grade 11 and 12 years does not even make it into the top quarter of the grad class but this was the case with this grad class."

In speaking to students about future plans and past experiences, there's a distinct lack of the quintessential teen angst - it's as if the brisk mountain air flushed it out of them. Alix Arcalean, 18, has her sights set on medical school and has been accepted at the University of British Columbia to pursue a bachelor's degree in science.

"A few years ago I was thinking I'd go into dentistry and now I want to go to med school, that's my focus," she said. "I want to work with Doctors Without Borders for a few years because I've always wanted to volunteer in Africa but it's really expensive for my parents to send me with a group."

Arcalean first discovered an interest in medicine through the lifeguarding courses she took in Whistler. While she admits she might have a temporary case of the heebie-jeebies when dealing with some of the more unpleasant sides of the human body, she's confident she'll get over it.

"My mom's a nurse and she said when she had to deal with her first patient she almost froze up and fainted, but she said she got over it and I will too - she promised," said Arcalean with a laugh.

While her new home on the UBC campus will surely be filled with a myriad of distractions, she's aware nothing will be like Whistler. Though it's a little early to tell whether or not she'll end up back here, Arcalean, who participated in the school musical for three years while juggling fundraisers, student council and leadership, says she will always come back.

"I loved growing up here, it is kind of the Whistler bubble but we're such a tight community that everyone knows each other," she said. "I don't go a day without seeing about 30 people I know, it just seems like everybody's got your back and you have so many connections and you learn how to use those connections and also there is so much to do, so then managing my time - I feel like I'm really good at that."