It was the worst injury the surgeon had ever seen. Separated from his femur, Samson’s muscles and tendons running down both his legs had essentially snapped like elastic bands. No one ever said being a circus performer was safe, but this was bad.
One week after his catastrophic landing at the Canadian Winter Games’ trampoline competition, Samson rolled into school with both legs fully extended out from his wheelchair. Doctors had made a long vertical slice up his thighs in order to reattach his tendons, ligaments, and muscles with the hopes that he would be able to walk again. Most kids probably would have stayed home recovering a little longer from a surgery like this, but Samson had things to do. Calculus, specifically.
He had a conditional offer based on the results of his AP Calculus AB exam and Samson isn’t someone who lets a good opportunity pass him by. He knows all too well how fleeting life can be.
Unfortunately, this accident wasn’t the beginning of Samson’s story. A year prior, Samson lost his mom to cancer. In the face of grief, Samson found solace by leading a group of students on an Encounter retreat where he shared an emotional speech about his mom. Encounter is a self-discovery trip that began at Collingwood some 20 years ago, and Samson says it’s the single most impactful thing he’s done at this school.
“I’ve been on it three times, and it’s like magic every time: students’ walls come down and everyone just connects at a different level,” Samson says. “It’s so valuable for high school students to practice being vulnerable like that.”
After the retreat, Samson had a shift in perspective.
“Encounter helped tremendously with grieving the loss of my mom. I knew I wanted to stay really close with this community and do anything and everything I could at Collingwood.”
Samson could have gone down any path after his mom’s death. Instead of withdrawing into grief, he leaned into his school experience. Samson was voted Arts Student Executive, he performed in the school play, signed up for AP Art, and earned first place in the school’s public speaking competition. He found passion in his physics courses and forged relationships with his teachers. His peers selected him to be the Valedictorian and represent the Class of ‘23 with a speech at commencement.
The loss also propelled him to take what little money he had and backpack around Europe, defying age restrictions and sleeping on park benches when his hostels turned him away for being too young. Not many people could make it traveling across Europe for a month on $1,500, but Samson did. It was a life-changing experience in more ways than one.
When Samson returned to school in September, he shared his plan to attend university in Europe. He had toured the University of Amsterdam campus and loved it.
“I spent so many years just being set on going to McGill for school, because that’s where my dad went and I lived in Montreal for some time. I also thought about some of the big US schools, but Amsterdam was a place where I could really see myself living.” Despite offers from prestigious US universities, Samson declined.
“What do you do when you have a student who’s so skilled across subjects? So passionate about the arts, but wants to study science? You find a program that delivers that,” said Jennifer Adriaanse, Director of Collingwood’s University Guidance Office.
Samson and his counselor came across the Amsterdam University College (AUC), a small interdisciplinary school (only 300 people are admitted per year) offering an interdisciplinary Bachelor of Science degree in English. There, Samson could take almost any course he wanted inside a very close-knit community. Unlike many other schools, AUC’s degree combines the natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences. Samson could spend a morning in film class followed by physics and political science.
It’s clear that Samson isn’t like most of his peers. From his circus performing – he rode a unicycle around the ballroom at prom – to his adventurous spirit and free-wheeling nature, Samson is well-rounded and doesn’t conform to stereotypes. This is something that Collingwood was able to support through its depth of programming.
“Collingwood has been so amazing for having such a versatile education,” he says. “I took film in Grade 10 and it was seriously the most amazing course. And our plays are significantly more professional than any other school. We have the only Black Box theatre in B.C. and our teachers are clearly so passionate about what they do.”
Despite facing adversity in his final years of high school, he approached his challenges with optimism, inspired by his mother's words: "It's always sunny if you go high enough."
Samson didn’t see his injury as a setback and the University Guidance Office secured him a medical exemption to write the AP exam. When his counsellor wanted to tell AUC his recovery would take 12 months, Samson insisted: “I’ll be walking in three.” He refused the exemption and wrote the exam in May.
True to his word, six weeks later, he was back on his feet, acting in the school play. Samson's determination and resilience are evident as he prepares to walk across the graduation stage as Valedictorian. His journey showcases the depth of his character, shaped by the loss of his mother, the transformative Encounter retreat, and Collingwood’s commitment to fostering individuality.
We can’t wait to see what’s in store for Samson in Amsterdam.