Harrison McCain Scholar transforms challenge into strength

Harrison McCain Scholar transforms challenge into strength

Even before she learned the term, Sami Brandes wanted to work with “glass children” through therapy.

Glass children is a colloquial term for the siblings of children with illnesses or disabilities, children who describe feeling overlooked or unattended to due to the high demands of their siblings.

“It was going around on TikTok a while ago, and my sister sent me [a video,]” Brandes explains. “She said, ‘Hey, this sound like you.’”

This characterization isn’t something Brandes shies away from or feels shameful about: in fact, she wrote about her experiences as a glass child for the essay that awarded her the 2023 Harrison McCain Scholarship.

“I cried [when I found out I won it.] I absolutely was sobbing … this is odd to say, but I was so shocked that someone would read my essay and say, ‘Yeah, she deserves it.’ I told my story, and I’m really glad they read it and appreciated it.”

Brandes’s story starts when she and her sister were young. “My sister was diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome, which is a chronic kidney condition.” She pauses. “A lot of people, when I tell them that, they don’t really know what to do with it, because it’s such a huge thing, right? Her kidneys essentially don’t work at all.”

When Brandes talks about the challenges this presented—both for her sister and herself—the complexity of this type of situation becomes clear. She will speak about the difficulty of being a glass child and tell you her sister is her best friend, all in the same breath.

“I’m very protective over her, even when we were kids,” she says. She softens, smiling. “I would not let anybody ever touch her…. She’s my little baby.”

Now that Brandes knows the term for the children she wants to help, she’s ready to do the hard work it takes to realize her goals. She’s no stranger to hard work—before coming to King’s Foundation Year Program (FYP), she spent a year working full-time and saving money for school.

Eventually she would like to major in psychology—a step toward her dream of someday becoming a therapist—but in the meantime, she is immersing herself in campus life. She got involved with the King’s Theatrical Society (KTS) almost immediately on arrival—perhaps not surprising considering she comes to King’s by way of Unionville High School, a performing arts school in Ontario.

She kicked off her theatrical career at King’s by stage-managing the 2023 Classics in the Quad production of The Birds, and then operated the lights for the fall production of Art.* She hopes to work her way up to director.

“I heard that the KTS was looking for stage managers, so I talked to one of the [KTS] execs. They said, ‘If you want to get into directing, stage managing is a really good way to get in and do things behind the scenes,’ as a way to understand how it all works. And so I just thought, ‘Okay, cool!’”

The first year of university—especially with a curriculum like FYP—can be stressful; an adjustment in lifestyle alongside an increased workload and living away from home for the first time inevitably presents some challenges. All the same, you’d be hard-pressed to find a student with as easygoing and cheerful a demeanor as Brandes. She acknowledges yes, there have been challenging moments for her, but when she looks to her future, it’s with enthusiasm. Much of this optimism she can attribute to the comfort of knowing the Harrison McCain Scholarship—worth up to $16,000 over four years—will provide needed stability for her future endeavours.

“This scholarship, it makes things just a little bit easier, and I think that’s really a beautiful thing. I’m so appreciative I got the opportunity to apply for it, and that I won it. It’s such a big thing.”

Whether it’s preparing for upcoming psychology courses, looking at grad schools or directing a show, Sami Brandes is confident she’s ready to take it on.

Learn how to apply for this and other major scholarships before the March 1, 2024, deadline.

*Editor’s note: The Pit, which is King’s beloved black box theatre located beneath the Chapel, was fully renovated in 2013—including new lights and a proper lighting grid—by the Harrison McCain Foundation, the same foundation that has provided for Sami’s scholarship.

Page Break