Tomas Ernst, VHS 1996  Diversity In Action

Tomas Ernst, VHS 1996  Diversity In Action

By Linda Baker, VHS 1969

Sports, scholastics, the arts, practical job-ready skills…Vic High has it all. Priorities in education and extracurricular activities come and go as students’ interests and the world changes, but Vic High has always offered diverse opportunities for students. It’s that diversity that really impacted one 1996 grad, particularly the range of good opportunities in both scholastics and sports. “I have earned Bachelors and Masters degrees from universities,” says Tomas Ernst from his home in Brussels, “but they have nothing on the culture and greatness of Vic High. It was the first school I attended that I really liked.”

Tomas was at Vic High 1994 – 1996, and his main sport of choice was soccer, the Vic High Tyees.




Tomas’ love of rock and roll inspired a new Vic High tradition at the time. “I ran a weekly music competition,” says Tomas. “Borrowing from local radio station the 100.3 The Q, I’d prepare a selection of music, (always rock), and students in their home room would be invited to guess the music and the artist. The Principal, [Dennis Harrigan], played the music over the PA system inside and outside the school, and would buy the winning home room a pizza lunch. Very cool of him!”

Besides the weekly music competition, Tomas has lots of great Vic High memories: hanging out with his buddy, Sam Ramsden, any class with his favourite teacher, Ms. Jillian Zaruk, soccer and hacky sack at lunchtime, and the day the principal let the students have a massive water fight outside on the lawn. Tomas took Grade 12 Drama with teacher Jackie MacDonald, and he and 20 classmates performed on stage in the Vic High Auditorium.  It wasn’t a classic play, but a 15-minute interlude. “We had each made our own creative papier mâché masks and were asked to perform as a group doing improv on stage.” Soccer and hacky sack were favourite lunchtime activities.

But Tomas figures it was the grad prank he and a few friends pulled that has to rank up there with classic Vic High grad pranks. “At the risk of self-incrimination,” laughs Ernst, “our prank took place at the Grant Street entrance to Vic High and involved over 100 feet of polypropylene rope, an enormous Budweiser beer flag, and an ‘outdoor school sign’ from a certain private school in Victoria. I’ll let readers use their imagination for the rest!”

Something in Tomas’ early life must have sparked his wanderlust, though. “For the longest time I needed to get out and see life beyond Vancouver Island,” Tomas goes on, “so life has taken me to some very cool places in East Africa, Asia, and Australia where I’ve lived and worked.” Europe is definitely on that list, too.  Tomas met his wife Sophie in Marseille when they were both working for the World Bank. “My French teachers would be proud that I finally learned to speak French, says Tomas, “although it only happened when I moved to Marseille and married a French woman.” Tomas and Sophie now have two little boys,  Lucas (5) and Gabriel (9).


Tomas now lives with his family in Brussels, the heart of Europe, and enjoys travelling, fishing, jogging, directing short films, and is passionate about Liverpool Football Club. He works for the UN Migration Agency, helping fragile countries and people who have been forcibly displaced by war, violence, or disasters. “My latest assignment took me to Ukraine in February 2024,” says Tomas, “to help displaced Ukrainians two years to the day after Russia invaded Ukraine.” He shared his experiences there in a February 22, 2024 article in the Victoria Times Colonist. Power of the people: Continuing to stand with Ukraine – Victoria Times Colonist

Tomas has a younger brother, Carl Ernst, VHS 1998, who is a professor at McGill University, and an older brother, Neil Ernst (a Spectrum grad), a professor at UVic. “My boys aren’t old enough for high school,” says Tomas. “But I’d recommend Vic High, especially as it’s now blessed to have French Immersion, a great development that wasn’t possible back in 1996.”

Tomas on assignment in Ethiopia

We like to ask alumni what advice they’d give to current students. “VHS students don’t need advice from former students like me,” says Tomas. “but if I was to drop some wisdom, I would have liked to have heard this in 1996.”

“Remember that your life is NOT over if you graduate from Vic High and still don’t know what you want to do after high school,” says Tomas. ”You have LOTS of time to figure this out.” Tomas didn’t know what to do next and so he let his mother pick his UVic courses. “I went to UVic as a 17-year old boy in his first semester and I hated every minute of my lectures in human anatomy and sports medicine,” he shares. “In hindsight I probably was not ready for university, but at least that experience showed me what I definitely did not want to do as a career. So relax, parents. And kids? Do something productive, but don’t stress if it’s not clear just yet where you’re headed.”

Wise advice.