Tiny high school in Toronto produces two Thiel Fellowship winners

The Abelard School wants to take one more opportunity to congratulate two of its alumni on their recent accomplishments.

Christopher Olah, who graduated from The Abelard School in 2010, won a 2012 Thiel fellowship. And now a second Abelard School alumnus has won a Thiel Fellowship: Vitalik Buterin, who graduated from Abelard in 2012.

Each year since 2010, American billionaire Peter Thiel (one of the first investors in Facebook) has awarded some of the most sought-after grants in the world to roughly 20 exceptional students: $100,000 and the opportunity to leave university for two years (hence the controversy!) to pursue research or start a company. In 4 years there have been roughly 80 recipients of Thiel Fellowships. Only 7 have been from Canada, and of these 2 are alumni of the Abelard School.

To produce two Thiel Fellows would be a remarkable accomplishment for any school (in fact, I’m not sure whether any other school anywhere in the world can say the same). What makes the achievement even more exceptional, however, is the tiny size of our school: Abelard’s entire student body from grades 9-12 averages 45 students annually.

At a time when the school system in Canada is beleaguered by complaints about dropping international rankings in math, poorly prepared undergraduate students entering first-year university programmes, and growing international competition for spaces in the best post-secondary schools, Abelard School students regularly win national and international competitions, scholarships and awards, and our graduates enter the best universities so well-prepared they are often placed directly into second, third and even fourth year courses.

Of course, any one who knows Abelard will understand why it’s no fluke that we turn out students like Chris and Vitalik.

In what other high school in the city would you hear Grade 11 students chattering away to each other in the hallways in a mixture of Latin, Ancient Greek, Russian and French? Reciting Chaucer in Middle English? Where else would you find a Grade 9 student sitting on the floor outside a Grade 12 classroom with her ear against the door to eavesdrop on the class? I doubt there are other schools where students with a passion for Computer Science are also writing brilliantly insightful essays on James Joyce’s Ulysses, translating Homer and Vergil from the original, writing hilarious satirical stories in French for the school literary journal, discussing the philosophy of Hegel with their friends at lunch time or celebrating April Fools’ Day with a “Pundraiser” in which they raise funds by making puns with the proceeds going to Covenant House’s Street Youth programme.

In the best European tradition, our students study the accomplishments of the past, but we also teach them to develop inquiring minds, to challenge the status quo, to create their own paradigms, to be creative. This combination of rigorous academic training (no longer fashionable in many schools) and creativity is, I think, the key to our approach, and accounts for the remarkable success of our students while they are with us and after. We are proud of them all!

One thought on “Tiny high school in Toronto produces two Thiel Fellowship winners

  1. Cheers for the remarkable success of the two alumni of Abelard School. J&D and their parents are fortunate to be a part of the Abelard family. Peter Thiel recently talked a the Commonwealth Club. He is an amazing individual.

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