Celebrating the spirit of generosity

This year York University paid tribute to its benefactors during an evening celebration that saw the dedication of the Honour Court located on York’s Keele campus. Carrie Brodi, communications officer with the York University Foundation, sent the following account of the June 23 celebration to YFile.

Inspiration and admiration for York University, its faculty and students filled the air during the Honour Court Dedication and Reception hosted by the York University Foundation. The elegant occasion, complete with a live jazz trio and sushi bar, celebrated York’s most generous donors, who gave $100,000 or more.


Above: From left, Tim Price, Lorna R. Marsden, Avie Bennett, Marshall Cohen and Paul Marcus

The Honour Court and Information Centre is located on York Boulevard, just inside the University’s main entrance. Designed by Stephen Teeple and Associates, its construction was made possible by a gift from philanthropist Seymour Schulich. The building is a tribute to the University’s benefactors and a meeting place for visitors.

Its award-winning design enhances the University’s existing architecture and serves as an addition to York’s front door, Vari Hall and the Harry W. Arthurs Common. The pavilion wall contains five types of granite blocks marking the cumulative gifts of donors since York’s founding in 1959. The Information Centre provides visitors with University maps and information via a touch-screen monitor.

Right: The Honour Court

“Our Honour Court donors represent a fundraising achievement of over $133 million for York University since we began fundraising for the University,” said Marshall Cohen, Chair of the York University Board of Governors. “And we couldn’t be more pleased to have so many new faces with us today.”

“We will keep building this donor wall as high as you want to go,” joked Cohen.


Right: From left, Karim Lakhani, Laila Lakhani, Abdul Lakhani, Samira Kanji and Husein Kanji

Tim Price, Chair of the York University Foundation board of directors, thanked Honour Court donors and shared the good news of the University’s best year of fundraising ever.

“I am pleased to report that with your involvement, we are making great progress,” he said. “In the last two years, not only did the number of donors increase by 24 per cent, but they have also contributed to a 71 per cent increase in donations to the University, pushing us over $18 million in revenue last year. This is most encouraging.”

Left: From left, Gillian Wu and Professor Michael Organ, Founder and Owner of Total Synthesis Inc.

“It’s very exciting to see the University receive assistance from so many external contributors and from our York community,” said Lorna R. Marsden, president and vice-chancellor of York University. “The new Schulich School of Business building is a great example of decanal and volunteer fundraising leadership.”

Many student recipients of scholarships and awards were in attendance including guest speaker, Azim Lila. A fouth-year business student in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, Lila overcame a learning disability and is a champion for disabled students. His impassioned speech about his experience as a student at York and his battle to overcome his personal obstacles triggered a standing ovation from the crowd attending the celebration.

“It was much like walking around with a weight tied to my foot,” he said of his learning disability. “At first it was an inconvenience, but lifting it made me stronger.”

At York, Lila had to work twice as hard on learning to read, listen and process information. With the help of dedicated professors and private financial support, he has enjoyed tremendous academic success, and has helped faculty members and students overcome their own disabilities.

Left: From left, Neil Nisker, Chairman of the Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto UJA Federation with Joseph Sorbara, member of the York University Foundation Board of Directors

“Behind every good student there are many people who care, motivate, nurture, encourage and sacrifice,” said Lila, “York takes pride in being a place where students can discover their true talents and abilities. I want to thank all of you – especially York donors – for having an impact on my life.”

“Azim, we share your pride and we thank you for confirming what a great decision our donors have made to support our students,” said Paul Marcus, president and CEO of the York University Foundation.

Marsden encouraged donors to think about supporting students like Lila, through the Ontario Student Opportunity Trust Fund, a limited-time provincial government initiative that provides dollar-for-dollar matching of private funds for student financial aid.

“Here at York many of our students are the first generation in their families to attend university. We reach out to communities of people who have all of the ability and ambition necessary to succeed, but may lack the resources,” Marsden said. “Raising funds for students with limited resources is a priority to ensure that a university education is accessible.”

Also in attendance was first-year Osgoode Hall Law School student Chaim Sapirman, who received the Cassels, Brock & Blackwell LLP Prize for achieving the highest grade in his constitutional law class.

“Many students are overwhelmed during their first year of law school,” he said. “Receiving this award spurred on my enthusiasm and courage and made me feel like I could do it.”

Right: From left, Max Gotlieb,  a member of the York University Foundation’s Board of Directors with Osgoode Hall Law School student Dessislav Dobrev

Schulich School of Business MBA student, Karen Sequeira was able to spend a year studying abroad thanks to an Ontario Graduate Scholarship she received, which was funded by Honour Court donor, Kenaidan Group Limited.

“It’s nice to have this support when you are a student, and in turn, to give support back to students when you are out in the business world,” she said.

Those inducted into the Honour Court for the first time in 2004 were:

  • Enbridge Inc.
  • HSBC Bank Canada, represented by CEO Sean O’Sullivan 
  • Harris Steel Group Inc.
  • Noor Cultural Centre, represented at the event by Karim and Laila Lakhani, Abdul Lakhani, Samira Kanji and Husein Kanji
  • Lorna R. Marsden, president and vice-chancellor of York University
  • Tribute Communities, represented by Al Libfeld
  • Jay Mandarino, president of CJ Graphics, and Catherine Wilson
  • UJA Federation & The Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto, represented by Neil Nisker
  • Total Synthesis Limited, represented by Michael Organ
  • Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation, represented by Ronald Robertson
  • Junior League of Toronto, represented by Lorie Sijura and Jane Beakbane
  • Han Shan Sih Buddhist Society, represented by Shirley Tang and Shirley Chen

Among those who had their Honour Court recognition stones upgraded in 2004 were:

  • Timothy R. Price
  • Brascan Corporation
  • The Unicorn Children’s Foundation, represented by the national executive director, Anna Tolan, who traveled from Florida for the event

The final toast was made by York Chancellor Emeritus Avie Bennett, who humorously explained planned giving as a euphemism for “being generous when you die,” and as one more way that York and its donors redefine the possible.

“Here at York, you don’t have to wait to get that granite stone on top of you,” he said. “You can look at it in the Honour Court and see the stone now. And given the choice, which would you prefer?”