York graduate’s play on Governor-General life moves her to tears

Michaëlle Jean cried in her handkerchief Wednesday afternoon during a performance at a Toronto school of a play based on her life, written by York alumnus Terrance Saunders (BA ‘84, MEd ’03), reported the National Post June 15. In An Ode to Madame G.G., students at Lawrence Heights Middle School traced Jean’s arrival in Canada in 1968 at the age of 11, her women’s rights activism at the Université de Montreal, her rise to fame as a journalist on CBC and her triumphant inauguration as governor-general last fall.

Saunders, the school’s drama teacher, said he wrote the play because he saw parallels between his life and Jean’s. Saunders saw Jean’s appointment as an opportunity for Lawrence Heights “to redefine its role vis-a-vis the negative stereotypes that abound about the school and the community,” he wrote in his director’s note. Lawrence Heights is one of Canada’s oldest housing projects, a series of rent-geared-to-income low-rises in north-end Toronto pejoratively referred to as “the jungle.” Built between 1955 and 1959, Lawrence Heights is home to 6,000 people, many of them immigrants from the West Indies and eastern Africa.

Throughout the spring, Lawrence Heights altered its curriculum to better acquaint students with Jean’s life and work. Students wrote essays and poems and drew her likeness. Rehearsals for the play began in March. Grade 7 and 8 students performed the complex play, which traced Haitian history from the Napoleanic invasion in 1802 to 1957, the year Jean was born in Port-au-Prince. The Ode featured medleys set to the music of Nina Simone and Wynton Marsalis, among others, with students changing between colonial garb, ’60s afros and oversized ’80s powersuits.  

  • There weren’t many dry eyes in the house as Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean watched a group of inner-city school children perform a play inspired by her life – an experience she said took her breath away, reported Canadian Press June 15. “You made me cry, you made me laugh,” Jean told the group. “Words cannot convey how moved I am with this wonderful, wonderful gift.” Terrance Saunders said he began working on the project last August after Jean was appointed the 27th governor general of Canada. Saunders, an immigrant from the Bahamas, said the students were inspired by the challenges Jean overcame after immigrating to Canada from Haiti. At first they “just identified with her because she looked like them,” he said. But after three months of vigorous preparation including studying her life, “I think she is a very big role model (to the students) now.” Lawrence Heights Middle School has about 350 students from 35 to 40 different cultures – over half of whom have a primary language other than English.
  • When Saunders asked Jean in November if she would attend a performance at their school, reported Toronto Sun June 15, he told her that he wanted his production to bring a message of hope for all Canadians. “I think you have succeeded,” Jean told him Wednesday. “My life story is very similar to many Canadians. It is like the life story of many of your parents and grandparents who had to leave their homelands to travel to Canada to start a new life.”

Orillia student lands scholarship and heads for York

Kimberley Muchnick applied for 17, soon to be 18, scholarships before being awarded her first one. “I’m still applying to more. I’m not giving up,” she told The Packet & Times (Orillia) June 16. The graduate of Orillia District Collegiate and Vocational Institute is the only student in the city to receive a $500 Meridian Credit Union Good Neighbour Scholarship. “That feels pretty good,” she said. Muchnick, 18, will study at York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science in the new Faculty of Health, in September.

Not your average Elvis act

There are few better ways of helping Dad feel like a king on his special day than by treating him to a concert featuring The King, reported The Lindsay Daily Post June 16. Why not take a trip down memory lane and celebrate Father’s Day at the Admiral Inn on Sunday with the Rockin’ Rev. Dorian Baxter – aka Elvis Priestly? Baxter was born in Mombassa, Kenya, in 1950. His father essentially launched his tribute career when he unknowingly bought him an Elvis Presley record for his fifth birthday. Baxter has been singing Elvis music ever since. In 1968, Baxter emigrated to Canada and attended teacher’s college in 1976. He received a bachelor’s degree at York’s Atkinson College in 1978 and then completed his master’s degree at the University of Toronto. He later took on a teaching position with the York District School Board and was an assistant professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.