Whether it’s as a high school basketball champion, math whiz-kid, Chamber of Commerce Rising Star, website and app developer, or language advocate, Brendan Eshom is a name that the Prince Rupert region is becoming familiar with.
Even though he is just 19 years old, the young man has already felt the pressure to succeed, the gratification of accomplishment, and the devastation of business disaster.
A Charles Hays Secondary School graduate of 2020, his final few months of high school were fraught with the world around him learning about a new virus sweeping the globe. While the community in which he lives masked their faces he had his head down thinking about the future and ways of how to preserve the past by developing a Sm’algyax word app and website.
Brendan’s mom is Gitga’at First Nations from Hartley Bay, and he spent lots of time there with his grandmother growing up. He learned from his grandmother that preserving the traditions and languages were imperative to pass on to future generations. Brendan wanted to learn the Sm’algyax language but his high school timetable couldn’t accommodate the scheduling, so as an entrepreneurial problem solver he found a way to teach himself. He jumped forward with the development of a Sm’algyax word of the day website.
“It is absolutely vital to learn the language. My grandmother’s family always encouraged and taught me to overcome any impediments to learning the language,” Brendan said. One of those impediments were laws of the day, he said.
“It feels like it’s my responsibility to take it back and build on what other people have done. I need to promote it. In the past, that wouldn’t have been possible for someone my age. I don’t want to look back in 20 years and wonder ‘Could I have done more?’ It’s important to take that opportunity now.”
As part of the Prince Rupert And District Chamber of Commerce Rising Stars program in 2020, Brendan leaped even further in the progression of the website by creating a Sm’algyax word app, which he used as his ‘passion project’ during the business mentorship program. Brendan’s app was so successful it reached 104 in Apple’s Top 200 ranked apps in July 2020. In the first week, it had more than 600 downloads in the education category.
At just 18 years old, this rising star had reached the stratosphere of youth success and held a moonbeam in his jar. His family and his 95-year old great-grandmother who is a fluent Sm’alygax speaker and still lives in Hartley Bay were his inspiration he told The Northern View.
“I’ve been taught to do as much as you can when you are young. It’s important to encourage language as soon as you can.”
“Basically, my efforts are just to sustain and strengthen the Sm’alygax language.”
But, as with any skyrocket of success soon can follow the back to earth crash of disappointment.
Self-described by Brendan, ‘devastation struck right after the app was launched’.
He said Apple removed the app and sent an email with the accusation of ‘fraudulent behaviour’.
“These were serious accusations against me. I never did learn what I did wrong. They said I broke their agreements and they were going to terminate my developer account.”
Brendan said he was completely bewildered and it was frustrating trying to learn what the issues were for Apple or how he could fix anything with no information coming back to him. Emails were the only way of communicating with the company he said, which were doing nothing by running him in circles. When he finally did get a phone number he was connected with a robot that just repeated the verbiage of the previously sent emails.
Deflated and utterly embarrassed by the removal of his heartfelt work Brendan did not allow himself to remain in the valley of disappointment after reaching a peak of success. Always finding a way to overcome a problem he reached out to Anne Drewa of Global BC Consumer Matters.
Brendan said it took a few months to get the situation sorted with the TV show’s assistance. The app is now back up with Apple having apologized citing a “miscommunication,”. Brendan’s experience will be featured on the show segment in an upcoming episode.
For now, Brendan is in his second semester of first-year university, which he is enjoying. All of his classes are online and despite the fact he said he would rather be on campus than in his room, he hasn’t been sheltered from controversy there either.
While he was not one of the accused, he was in the first-year University of British Columbia math class that 100 students were recently found to have cheated on a mid-term exam. He said there were 1,500 students in the entry-level university calculus class with three professors. When the cheating was found, the way to curb it was to average the grades and make the tests harder. He said he loved math in high school and was an ace at it, but this math class was “brutal”.
But he said he is used to hard work and overcoming challenges. He knows how to handle pressure and he knows how to win. He learned this from his days on the Rainmakers high school boys basketball team.
Brendan said at first he was hesitant to pick up basketball, but with encouragement from his grandfather his confidence grew and so did the bond between them.
Brendan admits to not being the most skilled player on the team and said he didn’t make the team the first time he tried out. At the time he was too embarrassed to tell anyone, but with hard work he finally made it. Later with that same dedication and some added aggressiveness to reach the goal of bringing home a championship, he persevered and overcame with effort. These skills were taught to him by his grandfather who first passed him a basketball when he was six years old.
Brendan played on the Hartley Bay intermediate team in the All Native Basket Ball Tournament for a couple of years but took a break to focus on his senior years in high school when he captained the Rainmakers in bringing back to back championship wins home to the city school for the first time in 27 years.
“We went into the tournament ranked as the number one team, so there was a lot of pressure to win,” he said. “We felt we had to live up to the previous seniors. We needed to prove we were just as good.”
Brendan said after the winning basket, the second he realized they had won the championship relief was the first thing he felt.
“It was just a big relief. It was a huge accomplishment and it was great to do it for everyone. We showed we worked hard enough to make ourselves number one. That feeling is awesome.”
But then COVID-19 hit and he hasn’t picked up a ball since. He said because he is naturally hardworking he made it during his high school basketball career as a good shooter by working on his coordination. He now plays golf and spends time working out to stay healthy and keep a daily discipline while everyone is social distancing during the pandemic.
As a self-described ‘introvert’ the pandemic protocols haven’t been too difficult for him, as he found things to do at home, and of course, he developed his app and website.
His confidence around other people grows daily, he said.
Public speaking was a challenge for Brendan growing up. He had a speech impediment of stuttering until he was in grade four.
“It was demoralizing for me.”
“I was able to work through things with a speech pathologist,” he said. “My brain would just work faster than my mouth and it would cloud my words.”
Working with a specialist, who taught him to breathe he was able to overcome the anxieties and become stronger within himself.
He is now in charge of club growth and recruiting new members for the Prince Rupert Toastmasters where he has been a member for the past couple of years.
“Toastmasters has helped me grow as a leader. I have been able to develop interpersonal skills and it has really boosted my confidence,” he said.
His new goal is to get the club membership to more than 16 so they can have a designation of being a “distinguished” club. He’s almost at his goal with needing just four more members.
Brendan Eshom has grown from a Prince Rupert child reading his favourite Robert Munch book as a bedtime story, to now reading The Economist and advocating for the progression of culture.
Whatever it is he reads, whatever he sets his mind to, whatever the ups and downs are he remains positive and said getting a good night’s sleep is the best thing for thinking.
“Sleep refines your thoughts, ” he said. “I come up with my best ideas when I sleep.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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