Two York students win Millennium Excellence awards

Whether in the developing regions of north Africa or in northern Ontario’s own backyard, two York University students are going a long way to make a difference.

Sarah AouchicheSarah Aouchiche and Nathanael Gerber lived up to the University’s tagline “redefine the possible” when they each won a 2005 Millennium Excellence Award.

Left: Sarah Aouchiche

Granted by the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, only 100 students from across Canada receive the award each year. Recipients are chosen for their leadership qualities, innovative ideas, community involvement and good grades.

Aouchiche, a third-year psychology and international relations student at Glendon, said volunteering has been a large part of her life since she was young. “I started volunteering when I was 12 years old,” said Aouchiche, who accompanied her father on his trips to the Algerian hospitals where he volunteered with patients. “You don’t get external rewards for it, it’s all internal,” she explained.

Aouchiche has also been involved in other projects such as giving free French lessons for children in Torontno and listening to the experiences of battered women in shelters across Canada. “You want to treat them as human beings,” she said. “It’s showing humility in everything you do.”

Now 21, Aouchiche spent eight years in Algeria and five in Montreal before settling in Toronto. She said her past is what has inspired her to study international law and to eventually find a career working with immigrants. She said the foundation has given her not only a boost financially but has brought her one step closer to her goal.

The renewable $5,000 prize is only a portion of the perks of the Millennium Excellence Award. Laureates are also invited to participate at the annual Think Again conference organized by the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. The conference gives winners a chance to network and discuss some of the vital social issues that face Canadians, alongside leading experts from a wide variety of fields.

“I think it’s crucial, [the foundation] allows you to dream,” she said. “An organization like that believes in you and gives you the resources to achieve your dreams.”

Nathanael GerberLike Aouchiche, Nathanael Gerber, a third-year music student in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, said the foundation has been a source of inspiration. “They have a lot of faith in students,” Gerber said. “They’ve gone to painstaking lengths to see what people are going through.”

Left: Nathanael Gerber

Gerber, 23, said moving around the Toronto-Brampton area a lot as a kid created some hurdles for him growing up. Exposed to racism in school, Gerber said one of his earliest memories is of other school kids singling him out for being black. Now he is using what he learned in his past to help spread understanding to others in different parts of Canada. “I’ve been blessed,” he explained. “There are a lot of people in my life who’ve believed in me.”

After his first year at York University, Gerber spent most of his summer in Aboriginal camps in northwestern Ontario, teaching art to kids. “I love people,” he said. “When someone else is passionate about something, that gets me excited.” Gerber’s other passions include jazz guitar and his project for creating a network for Christian arts. He hopes to gain employment after he graduates with a recording company.

Between January 2000 and the completion of its mandate in 2009, the foundation will have distributed approximately one million awards to students across Canada.

This story was written by Amanda Ferguson, a journalism student at Ottawa’s Carleton University.