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Part of a special feature celebrating the success of Memorial's graduates. This feature coincides with spring convocation 2017.

By Janet Harron

They don’t call him the “boy wonder of Bell Island” for nothing.

By the time he came to Memorial as an undergraduate in the fall of 2012, spring graduate Donovan Taplin had already travelled to the Arctic and Antarctic with Students on Ice and attended a United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil (missing his last day of high school).

As an incoming student, Mr. Taplin was offered the National TD Scholarship for Community Leadership and a Loran Award, Canada’s largest merit scholarship, and was a preternaturally accomplished public speaker. With the $170,000 scholarship windfall, he could have attended any university he wished. He chose Memorial.

“I don’t think it’s necessary to leave Newfoundland and Labrador to show you are successful,” said Mr. Taplin, who will collect his bachelor of arts degree on Tuesday, May 30, at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre.

“I could study anything I wished on the edge of the continent — why would I leave?”

Underneath it all

One could argue that Mr. Taplin was fully formed by the time he started university. But, in actuality, despite his long list of achievements, he found himself struggling.

“In 2013 I found myself very overwhelmed and I went to the university counselling centre,” he explained.

“In the waiting area was a poster for a documentary that I had attended the red carpet premiere for a year previously in Brazil. And I thought, ‘What is happening to me?’”

Mr. Taplin considers his visit to the counselling centre to be the best decision he made during his time at Memorial.

“For the first time I was able to talk about my struggles managing school and my other responsibilities. And from that day forward I was able to do the things I wanted to do and reach the goals I had set out for myself.”

A voice for home

His subsequent list of accomplishments is truly remarkable.

At the age of 19 he became the youngest person elected to municipal council in Newfoundland and Labrador. He continues to sit as a councillor for the Town of Wabana on Bell Island. In 2014 he was appointed to serve on Newfoundland and Labrador’s Youth Advisory Committee by then-premier Paul Davis.

Donovan Taplin at the water's edge on his home of Bell Island.
Donovan Taplin at the water’s edge on his home of Bell Island.
Photo: John Harvey

Last year, as the only Atlantic Canadian delegate with the Young Diplomats of Canada, Mr. Taplin worked as the co-lead of the Sustainable Development Portfolio for negotiations taking place during the Y7 Summit in Tokyo, Japan, the official counterpart summit to the 42nd Annual G7 Summit.

Following his experience in Japan, he was appointed an inaugural member of the Prime Minister’s Youth Council by Justin Trudeau.

When asked what he thinks about when he prepares for a meeting with the prime minister, the answer is simple.

“I think about Bell Island and the people there.”

Local and global conversation

Mr. Taplin appears to be a true incarnation of what interdisciplinary artist Dr. Pam Hall characterizes as “bringing the local into an equal and mutually informative conversation with the global” in her Towards an Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge (to be published June 5).

“It is about opening the space where multiple forms of knowledge, experience and passionate commitment to the commonplace that is our world are invited into respectful dialogue towards building healthier and more resilient futures for communities, cultures, and all living creatures that dwell together on the planet,” Dr. Hall writes in the encyclopedia.

“Effective storytelling is the cornerstone of making change.” — Donovan Taplin

Sounds like the perfect space for this new graduate — one who considers his BA to be a natural extension of his belief in storytelling as a proponent for change.

“When I tell people I’ve completed a double major in communication studies and folklore I often get one of two responses: ‘What are you going to do with that?’ or ‘What is that?’ To put it more simply, I feel I am earning a degree in storytelling. Effective storytelling is the cornerstone of making change.”

Off to Ryerson

Mr. Taplin has shared his experiences with thousands of Canadians as a keynote speaker at conferences, high schools, and special events across the country, including a TEDx talk last spring.

No doubt he will continue to use his storytelling skills to great effect when he enters Ryerson University’s intensive year-long master of professional communication program in September.

For his academic success as a Memorial student, Mr. Taplin was awarded a prestigious Ontario Graduate Scholarship to cover his tuition at Ryerson.

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