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Once bullied, Surrey scholarship winner worked to become top student at UBC business school

Queen Elizabeth Secondary grad Sally Jiao struggled with English and a limb malformation of her feet
Sally Jiao earned a Beedie Luminaries scholarship that allowed her to study at UBC’s Sauder School of Business. “It was a major surprise to get it, after submitting the application and going through an interview,” she said. “I think being in a really calm mood really helped me with that application, because for the others I felt really anxious.” (submitted photo)

Surrey’s Sally Jiao overcame episodes of bullying and financial hardship to become the top student in her class at UBC’s Sauder School of Business this past academic year.

The 19-year-old is a graduate of Queen Elizabeth Secondary’s Inter-A program, which stresses academic excellence in a student-centred environment.

In Grade 12, she earned a $40,000 Beedie Luminaries scholarship that has helped her become one of B.C.’s brightest young students, after applying for several scholarships to ease the financial burden of post-secondary studies on her family.

Early last decade, Jiao moved with her family from China to Vancouver, and later settled in Surrey. Not speaking a word of English, she says she struggled to adjust here as a pre-teen, and was repeatedly told that even if she learned English, she would never be able to master it well enough to truly succeed.

On top of that, Jiao was born with ectrodactyly, a limb malformation of her feet that made her a target of bullying.

“During gym classes, if we had something like gymnastics, we were supposed to take off our socks, and that’s when, you know, everybody would notice,” Jiao recalled. “That contributed to a lot of bullying and then I remember in Grade 5 we took a trip to Watermania, and that was really difficult. It was very hard to have fun while everyone is staring at you.”

In Grade 10, as “a passion project,” she made a 26-minute film about ectrodactyly that involved interviewing others.

“I really wanted to explore my love of filmmaking, and also come to terms with my condition,” Jiao said. “Part of coming to terms with the condition was going to other people who had it, so I interviewed a person and one parent in Australia and another person in Toronto, to talk to them about what their experiences were. I also visited shoe stores to learn about what accommodations they had. Ultimately, I talked to my friends who didn’t know I had this condition, and I ended up showing them and that was also part of me coming to terms with it.”

Initially posted to YouTube for all to watch, the film is now “unlisted” on the website. “It was public for awhile,” Jiao explained, “but some people contacted me saying they didn’t want it showcased on YouTube. So it’s not available for people to watch, no.”

Years ago, when Jiao first arrived in Canada, she found solace at local libraries and immersed herself in books. She eventually overtook her peers academically, finishing pre-calculus while still in Grade 9.

Such study habits have also helped at succeed at UBC, including in the current online learning environment.

“I am so proud of Sally Jiao,” UBC president Santa Ono stated. “Not only is she an outstanding student, she’s also active in the community, as shown through her work with World Vision UBC and other groups. In all she does, Sally exemplifies the ethos of the Beedie Luminaries Program and shows why the program plays such an important role in providing life-changing opportunities for deserving students.”

Grade 12 B.C. students looking to apply for a Beedie Luminaries scholarship can visit With the 2021 deadline now passed, successful applicants will be announced in May. The program is open to students planning to pursue undergraduate degrees or diploma studies at any public university, college or trade school in B.C.

“I heard about Beedie Luminaries through a school counsellor and applied for it without having a lot of hope,” Jiao recalled. “I’d gone through that process with other scholarships and I didn’t end up getting those. So it was a major surprise to get it, after submitting the application and going through an interview. I think being in a really calm mood really helped me with that application, because for the others I felt really anxious.”

Launched in 2018 with a $50-million donation from Ryan Beedie, the Beedie Luminaries scholarship will support 105 students in 2021. Last year, students from 25 municipalities across B.C. won the award.

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Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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