My grandfather was a really good storyteller, and I remember how much time I spent listening to his stories. We used to talk for hours at his kitchen table in his farmhouse in the mountains of Quebec. Perhaps it was a little unusual for a twelve years old child, but I felt attracted by his past and what he had to tell me. As a child my grandfather really liked school, and he was actually the only one in his family who was interested in learning. He wanted to go as far as possible because he felt passionate about improving his knowledge.
When my grandfather was old enough to work, he felt the need to help his family, because his father was not able to support them. His family was poor and large in number, so there were many mouths to feed with his factory salary. When he was fourteen, he decided to drop out of school. He found a decent-paying job, where he started at the bottom in the biggest cigarette factory in Quebec City. There were no windows, so he couldn’t see the daylight; my grandfather worked seven days a week, often at night. When he was working there, he breathed a lot of chemical products used to kill bacteria in the tobacco. Back then, no one knew the bad effects, so the workers never wore masks to protect themselves. The conditions were horrible, but my grandfather had to keep this job because he was, by then, married, and his wife was pregnant, and it was the best job he could find in order to be able to feed his own family. I can remember him telling me that he used to throw up every single morning before going to work. His job made him sick, but he kept going because he had to.
My grandfather once told me that there is nothing worse than having no choices and to be obligated to follow a predestined path. He always encouraged me to stay at school in order to find the job that suited me best. My grandfather believed in hard work, determination, and the pursuit of happiness, and this is what my parents believe in, too; they have taught me these values throughout my entire life. When I decided to come to the United States to study, I had goals and dreams, and I was looking for the best education possible. I knew that I could find what I was looking for and that I could open my mind on the world. This comes from my grandfather’s influence on me when I was young. He made me understand that education can bring happiness, because having the chance to choose what really attracts one in life is a gift. I know that my grandfather would have liked to continue his studies when he was young, and I have promised myself that I will respect his dream.
Olivier Frenette ‘14