Alumnae Spotlight: Leah John ’18

Following her Passion for Golf & Juggling University Life: Leah John ‘18

For Leah John who graduated from York House in 2018, taking a Gap Year to focus on her game of golf gave her a clear vision for her future. We caught up with her in between golf tournaments this spring. 

Tell us a little about your gap year and how that informed your decision for university?
Yes, I did take a gap year to focus on golf, and then I headed to The University of Nevada, Reno where I am studying Kinesiology. I spent a total of three months in Scottsdale, AZ. The first two months I lived in a motel and went to a golf academy called Vision54 to train every day. I also played on a mini professional tour called the Cactus Tour, so I could gain more experience and learn. This was the first time I ever lived entirely on my own, and it was a really great experience. For example, I remember having a tournament an hour away from Scottsdale and having to set up a host family to stay with, my rides, and cook all of my meals for the week. I met some close friends at the academy and learned a lot about myself. The third month I was there I lived with some family friends and did the same thing. I also met a physical trainer there who helped me and continues to help me get stronger and faster. 

Overall, it was the happiest time of my life, and I learned that being a professional golfer is definitely something I want to pursue. It was also incredible to meet and play with professional players, and have access to high-level coaching. This is something that is harder to find in Canada. Additionally, I wanted to take the gap year so that I could have a foundation for going into school that was mentally and physically prepared. I truly think it helped my transition into college because I already experimented with how to be self-sufficient, and more importantly I felt ready and fresh to take on the school and golf workload. 

You had your freshman year at the University of Nevada. Describe that experience?
My freshman year at UNR was awesome, but definitely hard. I always feel hesitant to tell high school graduates this because I don’t want them to feel more afraid about university; it is hard, but not in a way that is impossible. The first three months were busy because we were in golf season travelling almost every other week and I was still figuring out my classes. I would say the toughest part was being on somebody else’s schedule, balancing my perfectionist tendencies for school and golf, and learning to communicate better with my professors and coaches. Living in a dorm was also fun, and my roommate was the complete opposite of me which made for a perfect match. She was 6ft tall, ate the worst diet I had ever seen, didn’t care too much about school, but she played on the softball team, was extremely relaxed and kind, and she helped me get through some hard moments. 

York House definitely prepared me well for college. I got really good marks in school, I was great at time management, and I had solid study tools. My schedule and lifestyle made it challenging to meet people and immerse myself in the university culture, but that is something I would never trade for the amazing experience I already have. I think being a student-athlete is one of the best ways to experience college. Everything came to a halt in March. I was in Hawaii for a golf tournament where none of us had even heard of the word COVID, and the day after the tournament ended we found out all tournaments were cancelled, school was shutting down, and I had to go home. It felt very surreal. So that day I flew into Reno at 2:00 am, wrote an exam at 9:00 am, packed my stuff and flew home at 12:00 pm.  I was there from March to the beginning of January 2021.

I used that time to improve my golf game, see how good of marks I could get, and get as strong as I could. Everything was online, I turned my garage into a gym, practiced every day, read more, and did something challenging often. It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime chance where the world paused, so I could experiment, fail, and push myself without as great of repercussions. I am now back at school, and loving it.

What has been keeping you busy? What’s your schedule like?
I am taking five courses, and they are all online. I love online school because I bring my laptop to the course with me and do class there. It saves a lot of time. I have school every day and I usually do my classes between 8:00 am and12:00 pm. I have team practice 5-6 days per week for at least three hours. I weight train five to six-day per week at 6:30 am for 1.5 hours, and we travel every other weekend where we play 36 holes in one day and 18 the next. This week I am going to Utah! I know it sounds wild to be travelling so much, but I honestly can say I feel safe, and luckily golf is a safe sport. My team are the only people I see, and I also get tested for COVID every week. We also wear masks and visors whenever we travel, and masks are mandatory during team practice and lifting. Needless to say, I am very busy, and I love it. My life is truly school and golf. 

What are your future plans post-pandemic?
My future plans are to turn professional when I graduate and work towards the LPGA tour. That probably means I will be in the states to play on mini professional tours and qualifying school (another way to get into the LPGA) so I can work my way up the ranks. Due to the pandemic, I gained an extra year of eligibility at school so I can stay for a fifth year and play golf if I want. I am still considering this. Some of my teammates are using that year to get their masters or apply to medical school. It is nice to have the opportunity.

Not for Ourselves Alone: Four Generations at York House

From the First Graduating Class to a Legacy for the Future

R-L Nora (McBride) Mitchell ’35, Kelly (Forbes) Selby ’01, Nora (Mitchell) Newlands ’67, and Lindsay Forbes ‘96
R-L Nora (McBride) Mitchell ’35, Kelly (Forbes) Selby ’01, Nora (Mitchell) Newlands ’67, and Lindsay Forbes ‘96

“As a student, I loved the traditions of York House,” reminisced, Nora (Mitchell) Newlands ’67. “The annual school photos with the entire school—in Grade 1, I was in the front row in awe of the Grade 12 students in the back row. Penny drives, singing of time-honoured songs, house competitions, sports’ days, uniforms including bloomers, berets and gloves, carol services and dances to mention a few. I remember my classmates, six with whom I journeyed through Grades 1-12, and the teachers, who were nurturing, often inspiring and always dedicated. I remember singing our school song and school march with pride.

When I considered adding my name to York House School’s Legacy Society, I reflected on my connection to York House beginning in the 1930s when my mother, Nora (McBride) Mitchell ‘35 attended, and continuing through my twelve years, my two daughters and today, with my granddaughter, Ava in the Junior School. My decision was easy. Joining the Legacy Society was my way of supporting a school that has meant so much to my family.

My mother Nora, who had graduated in York House School’s first graduating class of 1935, said to me, ‘York House made a lady out of me.’ While that approach may have been appropriate during my mother’s time at school, York House has met the evolving role of women in the world over its almost 89-year history. For me, yet another reason to join the Legacy Society, to support a school that prepares girls for the world in which they will graduate.

My mother and I shared the experience of having YHS Founder, Lena Cotsworth Clarke, as our Headmistress. An imposing figure, Mrs. Clarke was both respected and feared. As a seven-year-old student, I remember walking past the old Junior School and felt my ponytail being pulled down. It was Mrs. Clarke in her black academic gown letting me know in no uncertain terms that ponytails belonged at the neckline! Having said that, Mrs. Clarke had a warm side to her as it was clearly evident that she cared deeply about each and every one of us.

 My sister and sisters-in-law graduated from the school too: Barbara (Mitchell) Vitols ’57, Stevie (Bryson) Mitchell ’61, and Mary Jane (Randall) Mitchell ’67. When I graduated in 1967, we were ready for higher education, which would lead us onto careers or lives in education, business, real estate, medicine, social work, leadership roles, volunteering, or raising families. When my daughters, Lindsay Forbes ‘96 and Kelly (Forbes) Selby ’01 graduated, the school’s opportunities were exceptional. I was especially pleased that the school’s population was diverse and inclusive, reflecting the world in which we live.

As an alum, I have gathered with my graduating class several times over our 54 years. It’s as if time has melted away as we catch up easily. As a parent, I loved supporting my daughters in their interests – music, drama, sports and academics. In 1992, I chaired the 60th YHS Anniversary Committee, made up of wonderful alums, teachers and parents. What an anniversary it was – Founders’ Day was reinstated, a YHS Coat of Arms and Heraldic Flag was created under the leadership of Pauline (Agnew) Hall ‘54, a play was mounted showcasing the school’s history, and every student received a 60-year pin, to name a few of the highlights. As a board member, I cherished my privilege to serve, add my voice and play a leadership role in the school’s governance.

Nora (Mitchell) Newlands ‘67 and Pauline (Agnew) Hall ‘54 holding the new YHS Flag on April 28, 1993, after the proclamation of the YHS Coat of Arms and Heraldic Flag as part of the school’s 60th Anniversary
Nora (Mitchell) Newlands ‘67 and Pauline (Agnew) Hall ‘54 holding the new YHS Flag on April 28, 1993, after the proclamation of the YHS Coat of Arms and Heraldic Flag as part of the school’s 60th Anniversary

Most of all, my mother, myself and my daughters would all agree that York House created a safe environment to grow, to learn, to meet challenges, to gain personal confidence and to make friendships, regardless of what decade we attended the school. All of this was layered by having fun, all in the spirit of ‘Not for Ourselves Alone’.  My granddaughter, Ava Dibadj ’30, daughter of Lindsay, great-granddaughter of my mother Nora, is now having the York House experience. Another reason that the YHS Legacy Society resonates with me: to support other girls in the future with the opportunities my family has enjoyed.” 

Nora’s daughter, Lindsay Forbes ’96 recalls her student experiences at YHS being wide-ranging and full of joy. “I remember working hard in school and on homework and also participating in many extracurriculars — jazz band and orchestra, volleyball, basketball, and netball, the “YHS at Sixty” theatre production, outdoor ed trips — most notably snow caving, a Red Cross Leadership Camp, the list continues. YHS offered a great variety of experiences, and it was the school (teachers, friends, and administration) that allowed and encouraged me to say “yes” to as many opportunities as possible.

I think an important characteristic of a successful school is creating an environment of “home away from home,” because it removes obstacles to learning. YHS does this well. If you are surrounded by people who care about you, then rising to challenges and taking risks becomes easier (like trying out for the choir even though I was not a strong singer). Knowing that my mother and grandmother attended YHS and loved the school, allowed me to feel safe, comfortable, and cared for from day one. For that, I feel grateful and fortunate.

Also special were times that YHS invited parents and grandparents to the school, for example to celebrate Founders’ Day. Being in the same room with my mother and grandmother gave us the chance to share traditions together. 

My sister, Kelly (Forbes) Selby ’01, said that it was when she entered the Senior School that she began to appreciate being a third-generation Yorkie. Passing our mother’s and grandmother’s photos in the school served as reminders that she belonged to a family of strong, independent women who also roamed the hallways of York House, building lifelong friendships and striving to succeed. 

Nora (Mcbride) Mitchell ‘35 at the Alumnae Reunion luncheon with her granddaughter Kelly Forbes participating as a model. The class of 1967, Nora (Mitchell) Newlands’ class) had the most attendance!
Nora (McBride) Mitchell ‘35 at the Alumnae Reunion luncheon with her granddaughter Kelly Forbes participating as a model. The class of 1967, Nora (Mitchell) Newlands’ class, had the most attendance!

It’s incredible to have my daughter, Ava at the school in Grade 3 now; I feel so happy for her. Starting at a new school is no easy task. I think it has helped Ava to know that her mom, her aunt, her grandmother, her great-grandmother, and a myriad of great-aunts, including the tremendous YHS Foundation Chair and past Alumnae Association President, Stevie Mitchell ’61, feel, and felt, in the case of her great-grandmother, deeply connected to YHS. We love and trust the school and now so does she.

Fourth generation at YHS, Ava Dibadj ‘30
Fourth generation at YHS, Ava Dibadj ‘30

Ava shared, “My favourite parts of being at York House now in the time of COVID-19 are watching Go Noodle (an online resource that provides teachers with a library of “brain break” videos to use in their classrooms) during lunch instead of going to the cafeteria, and seeing the “cool videos” the school adds to weekly assembly. The one part that is a little hard is that all the teachers are wearing masks, and we can’t see their faces.” 

Lindsay added, “From a parent’s perspective, the YHS administration, teachers, and staff have done an extraordinary job this year despite incredible challenges. Thinking back of my grandmother, she was an amazing person — a true North Star to all her grandchildren. She was strong, confident, and fun to be with. She wanted to hear our opinions and demanded that we were conversationalists who could keep up with her thoughts on current events. “What’s new,” most of the time meant, “let’s discuss politics…and what are your thoughts on so and so.” Her moral compass was very strong. Most of all, she cherished her family and friends. I think I can confidently say on behalf of my cousins that we miss her deeply and dearly.

YHS gave so much to me, so it was an easy decision to join the YHS Legacy Society. I think that supporting institutions that are meaningful to us is generally an important part of being a good global citizen. I often reflect on the school motto, Not for Ourselves Alone – it reminds me to always think of others. Joining the society in memory of my grandmother is deeply significant to me.

For others considering joining the YHS Legacy Society, I’d say that when one is ready to look back on the people and places that helped make you who you are, and what you’ve become, don’t hesitate to support them.” To learn more about the society, visit yorkhouse.ca/legacy.