Caribbean students celebrate their achievements with a walk
The enthusiasm of 650-plus students about to graduate from high school was on full display at an event to celebrate their accomplishments and to encourage them to pursue post-secondary education.
"When I say 'I am,' you say 'great'" said educator Ramon San Vicente. The venue resonated with "great" from the students of Emery, Westview, Downsview, C.W. Jefferys, and West Humber Collegiate.
It was the fifth annual Walk With Excellence held on May 24, which included the graduands, community organisations, elders, parents, educators, and special guests.
This is the first year that students from West Humber Collegiate have participated in the walk from C.W. Jefferys to York University that has inspired other such events.
On the following day, Toronto District School Board students in the east end of the city walked into the University of Toronto campus, and students in Ottawa walked into the University of Ottawa campus on May 31.
In keeping with the theme of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), students from the five schools walked into York University's Life Sciences building, symbolically marking their move from secondary to post-secondary life.
They were presented with commemorative medallions engraved with the words "knowledge is power".
"Who remembers our teachers suggesting this would be the best four years of our life?" asked a student presenter who then said, "On June 29, we're all graduating."
She indicated that it was a token of their hard work, sleepless nights, juggling school and work, and "we made it".
In a stirring spoken-word piece, Tinuola Akinwade of Downsview said, "the power of knowledge is the springboard to opportunity."
Rise up and shine
"We have been told that we're not good enough, and look, we're here," she said, encouraging her colleagues to "rise up and shine brighter than the people who want to dim our light".
Lyndon Martin, dean of the Faculty of Education, and Carl James, Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora, welcomed the students, reminding them that it was a beginning and encouraging them to seek post-secondary education.
Bursaries were presented to Nana Boateng of Westview, Kellisha Roberts of C.W. Jefferys, Gavin O'Sullivan of West Humber, and Tinuola Akinwade of Downsview.
O'Sullivan, 20, who is Jamaican and visually impaired, will attend Seneca at York to pursue the one-year independent songwriting and performance programme. After that, he plans to go into radio broadcasting.
He is very active in the community, performing at community centres such as Rexdale and Elmbank and in various churches.
Boateng, 18, is heading to Queen's University to study computer and creative arts.
As a performer, he sings, plays the guitar, and plays with his band at extra-curricular activities such assemblies for Black History Month, Asian Heritage Month, and other events.
"I feel like that has really shaped me into who I am today."
Roberts, 18, moves on to the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University to pursue hospitality and tourism management.
She wants to work at the airport and to open a banquet hall in her homeland, Antigua and Barbuda.
At her school, Roberts is the co-exec on the leadership team; president of the prom committee; and president of Generation Change, a club involving Westview and Downsview.
Akinwade, 18, will attend Carleton University to study political science and wants to become a lawyer working with the government.
Led by author and entrepreneur, Itah Sadu of Educational Attainment West, the annual event is organised by a committee of students, educators and community members.
Sadu felt great about the day because everybody she worked with on the project delivered well, which, she noted, was a sign of growth.
"I feel good when you look at the line, and the students themselves note that the line extends almost all the way from the university to the school, secondary to post-secondary. I felt that they felt that represented their doing and their ability. Look how long we can stretch. look how endless the possibilities are."
Sadu believes that the addition of a school this year, and its commitment to be back next year, is a calling card for other schools.
"I feel that the possibilities of the future are good ones. We must always tell ourselves that young people will not let us down, that they are the keepers of the future and that they're going to do a good job. And when we hear the speeches and we see the interaction between schools, I think I am hopeful."
She said that there are some students who haven't made a decision about university, however, she heard them beginning to talk the language of York, Seneca, and other spaces.
"The walk wasn't designed to say we are walking you into the university, but the walk was designed to say we are taking you on another journey of life, and here's an option for you to choose."
Steel band leaders Earl La Pierre Jr of Afro-Pan and Wendy Jones of Pan Fantasy kicked off the walk.
Both steelbands one having a 40-year history, the other, 30-plus years came out of Westview and the Jane and Finch community.
Volunteer parade marshals of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival were on hand to make sure that the students got to the university safely.