Alumni Interview: Paul Bennett (1973)


In commemoration of Lisgar’s 175th anniversary, I spoke with Lisgar alumnus Paul Bennett. Now retired, he has worked for Foreign Affairs Canada, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and the Canadian International Development Agency and has traveled and lived around the world.

T: Why do you think that Lisgar is a good high school?

PB: I think Lisgar is a good high school because it has high academic standards, it draws students from a wide variety of backgrounds in terms of socioeconomic status, ethnicity, different parts of the city. It also provides different programs such as the gifted program and offers many opportunities to all the students. It also good because it is one of the schools that focus on extracurricular activities and has a great selection of clubs and sports like Yearbook or Student Council or teams. It encourages students to take a part in school and in the community in general. I personally like the fact that the school is a historic monument.

T: How did Lisgar prepare you for the future?

PB: Different ways, one of which was the French program it offered; my French was fairly good, and then I did become for about a year the executive director of something called the Canadian Parents for French. There is an organization for CPF in each province and I was executive director of the program out in BC and Yukon. It also taught me the importance of volunteering and being active in the community and I’ve carried that throughout my life, not so much when I was with Foreign Affairs because I traveled so much but now that I am retired I was been more active in the community again. I learnt the subjects that were important to me such as history, the arts, geography, english, and french. Those are the courses I went to take in university and I majored in history and politics. So it was some of the grounding I got at Lisgar that helped me pick these courses. And also there were a lot of foreigners at Lisgar, either diplomats or immigrants, who helped me think more about becoming a diplomat.

T: Do you believe your life would be any different today if you hadn’t gone to Lisgar?

PB: Yes my life probably would have been different; as I said I probably wouldn’t have gone abroad, I wouldn’t have learned as much French. I wouldn’t have chosen to make Ottawa my home necessarily. I moved around a lot; I had lived in Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa so before high school I had gone to four different schools in eight years. When I came to Lisgar, I stayed there for five years so I felt that I had put down routes and I began to like Ottawa. That’s one reason why I would return to Ottawa between jobs or after university.

T: Which was the meaningful year of your high school?

PB: Grade 13 because that was the year where you take more responsibility in school and you’re getting ready to go to university. The teachers treat you more as equals and I certainly got to know more people with the extracurriculars. In grade 23 I was particularly successful with the Vox as the Business Manager; we only got $1.25 from the school to pay for the Yearbook, which was $7, so we had to find a way to pay the difference. We had sales; we sold books, nose warmers, records, baked goods, and we held dances. The biggest thing was selling advertisements from different companies in the Vox. So I had a lot of satisfaction by coming up with $5.75 to pay for it.

T: Are you still involved with the school in any way today?

PB: Yes, I am very active with the school; I am on the executive team of the Lisgar Alumni Association, we usually meet once a month. We deal with issues concerning the association such as the reunion, people making enquiries regarding the history of the school, or putting the Vox online. I am on the Planning committee for the 175th and my particular focus is on fundraising, we are trying to raise $100 000 towards the renovation of the school auditorium. I am also on the Lisgar Fund committee; money is collected through donations and goes towards scholarships for students either at Lisgar or going on to university.

T: And finally, what would you tell your high school student self?

PB: I would tell myself to get more involved with sports, I was too focused on things like the Vox and StudCo and I didn’t really have the confidence to go for sports. I would remind myself that high school is an important time of your life and that you should enjoy it because you still live at home and still get the support from your parents, you’re just starting to spread your wings and learning what interests you.